Wave of AI about to break on Irish workplaces, employers say

Four in five Irish firms surveyed see artificial intelligence being deployed within two years

German chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with a humanoid robot at the Hannover Messe trade fair in Hanover, Germany, on Monday. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with a humanoid robot at the Hannover Messe trade fair in Hanover, Germany, on Monday. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

 

Artificial intelligence and human workers will be working alongside each other as coworkers and trusted advisers within two years, but companies need to create AI products that are responsible, productive members of society. That is the view of 81 per cent of Irish businesses, according to the latest report on tech trends from Accenture.

The Accenture Technology Vision 2018 highlighted the use of advanced technologies such as AI, advanced analytics and the cloud could help create intelligent businesses and enable companies to integrate themselves more deeply with people’s lives, changing how we work and live.

But trust in the new technology was key, with 78 per cent of Irish businesses saying they would be transparent in their AI decisions to gain customer trust and confidence.

Technology is reshaping large parts of society, David Kirwan, head of technology at Accenture Ireland said, comparing it to the introduction of electricity.

“The world today is reimagining itself around digital innovation – and, by extension, the companies that provide those services. This requires a new type of relationship, built on trust and the sharing of large amounts of personal information.”

AI is getting a huge amount of attention in the media, he noted, but said some of it was extreme reporting.

“AI is taking over the world, AI will take over all our jobs – it’s very hysterical,” he said. “AI for the most part is not nearly that advanced at the moment.”

Instead, AI could be used for driving efficiencies, fraud reporting, guiding maintenance engineers and other more practical stuff, he said, rather than going down the sci-fi route.

Consumer adjustment

The increasing use of AI has the potential to be transformative for many companies, but would also require some adjustment by consumers.

“As with introduction of any tech there will be disruption,” he said. “Some people will lose their jobs, but other jobs will be created.”

Recent studies have estimated about 14 per cent of jobs would be lost to AI and automation, but Mr Kirwan noted that almost two-thirds of jobs would be transformed by the technology.

“We should be preparing people to take up new jobs and roles that the AI revolution will create,” he said. “Someone will need to teach AI. Others will have to work alongside it. There will be an element of displacement, where AI will automate some of the more repetitive jobs.”

The report also noted that while 85 per cent of Irish businesses said organisations are heavily reliant on data, many have not invested in ways to ensure its accuracy.

Although much depends on the integrity and accuracy of the data being used to inform AI, Mr Kirwan said “good” data could also be manipulated, giving misleading answers and potentially impacting the artificial intelligence.

Data is also multiplying, with Irish businesses collaborating more frequently. Some 45 per cent of Irish companies said they are working with at least twice as many partners than they were two years ago.

The report features views from business and IT executives worldwide, and questioned 100 Irish executives and directors.

Other trends that have the potential to transform people’s lives include the rise of virtual and augmented reality technologies, and the creatiion of intelligent distributed systems through robotics.

More than 80 per cent of Irish businesses said using extended reality would be important for closing the physical gap between employees and customers, but only 14 per cent see it as important for their business to be a pioneer in this area.

Mr Kirwan said the consumer market stole a march on virtual reality but there was huge untapped potential in this area for businesses and enterprise.

“What we are expecting to see is much greater adoption of that in an enterprise and business context,” he said, pointing to companies such as Walmart, who use extended reality to train staff for Black Friday.