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To reap benefits from AI, invest in people

Magnus Lodefalk standing with crossed arms and with a long hallway behind him

Will AI take our jobs? Answers range from a resounding NO to an anxious-filled YES. A researcher will almost always say, “It depends” – which is also the shortest possible summary of the Swedish book “ Artificiell intelligens och jobben”.

“Efforts need to be made to reap the benefits from AI as well as to mitigate the negative consequences,” says Magnus Lodefalk, the book’s author and a researcher in economics at Örebro University and the research institute Ratio. He continues, “It has to be more profitable to invest in people than just to replace them.”

Magnus Lodefalk analyses how AI affects jobs, wages, and what we do at work. AI can learn independently and quickly perform complex tasks with access to large datasets and powerful processors.

“So far, we haven’t seen any clear signs of a lack of jobs but rather a shortage of labour and skills. Which is reason enough for organisations to embrace AI,” says Magnus Lodefalk.

While the demand for skills in AI and computer science is expected to increase significantly, some professions may disappear or require fewer employees when AI does all or parts of the work, primarily affecting white-collar employment.

AI development is accelerating

Ericsson, the Swedish telecom conglomerate, recently announced that AI can perform specific tasks in a few minutes, which previously required several employees and weeks to complete. Nvidia, which sells graphics and AI chips, is now one of the world’s three most valuable corporations. Försäkringskassan, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, uses AI for more straightforward administrative tasks, and Arbetsförmedlingen, the Swedish Public Employment Service, uses AI to produce qualified decision-making materials.

“Throughout history, many professions have disappeared when new technology has emerged, but so far, the effects of AI on employment seem to be limited,” says Magnus Lodefalk, and continues:

“But both individuals and organisations must adapt. AI development is accelerating, and it’s important to keep up and invest in continuing professional development.”

AI can and will replace more straightforward and routine tasks. However, the more varied the work is, the harder it is for AI to do the job.

“It’s important to consider how well-equipped you are in your working life using AI. In short, the fewer skills or education you’ve packed in your suitcase, the less prepared you are for the journey ahead.”

Leveraging AI technology effectively

Magnus Lodefalk suggests several measures to mitigate negative consequences and leverage AI technology effectively.

“For organisations and individuals to have the opportunity to adapt, the rules of the game need to be more similar for investments in employees as with capital. Investing in people, rather than replacing them, should make for a profitable result,” says Magnus Lodefalk.

With the right conditions, AI can boost people by making them more efficient and perform tasks that humans have difficulty doing. Research studies have even shown that employees who are less experienced or less skilled develop best with the help of AI.

“They not only get better at their job but also stay longer at their workplace and feel less stress.”

Linked to reduced stress

There are suggestions that AI is linked to reduced stress. One example is doctors who gained access to an AI tool. These doctors said that documenting patient visits was made easier and reduced stress.

“AI should do what artificial intelligence does best, and humans should do what humans do best. This can result in higher productivity, more jobs, higher wages, and a better work environment.”

An overall review of research shows that AI has not yet significantly affected employment, what people do at work or wages.

“But this development is accelerating, so it’s fair to say that some 70 per cent of those employed in Sweden alone will be affected. In one way or another, everyone will encounter AI in their working lives.”

Three actions to meet AI challenges and seize on opportunities:

1) Evaluate and prepare your organisation and your employees

Assess how AI will affect jobs and the organisation. What risks and opportunities exist? What needs to be done to keep up with the developments, and what type of skills development is needed?

2) Mitigate adverse effects with both governmental and private measures

Investing in technology should not be more advantageous than investing in employees. Taxes on labour are higher than on capital. It is impossible to take a loan to invest in employees’ skills development or write off training over time. Here, political reform is needed.

3) Shape the development of artificial intelligence

AI is not set in stone – we can and must influence AI’s development to shape it as a tool so that it helps us solve society’s challenges, increase productivity, and contribute to a positive and sound working environment for employees.

Text: Linda Harradine
Photo: Linda Harradine
Translation: Jerry Gray