Technology

AI in the workplace: creativity friend or foe?

As we embrace the Smart Building, will AI technology support workplace creativity and improve productivity or pose a threat? Nigel Miller of Cordless Consultants weights up the argument

There are two main types of AI: narrow and general. Narrow AI operates within a single defined range and handles a single task, such as spam filtering, language assistance, parking sensors or playing chess. General AI is ultimately superior to this as it operates across bounds, exhibiting some human type intelligence and starting to challenge human thinking. AI (narrow) is currently what we see more widely deployed and is very good at repetitive, robotic tasks, but not creative thinking and forming new ideas.

We currently live in a world where people work hand in hand with the output provided by AI. We use information from programmes, source feeds, cameras and sensors to help manage our workplaces and make decisions. However according to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, by 2029 computers will have human level intelligence. This theory fuels mass fear that robots will replace us and we will all be out of a job.

Over-trusting AI

According to Wikipedia, the technological singularity (the singularity) is a hypothetical future point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilisation. This future point has generally remained five years away since AI has been around, and is still the case, but one day will be a reality. Encouragingly, there are apparently Government agencies tasked with having an escape plan as general AI is deployed and if the machines try to take over!

Generally, there is an over trust in narrow AI, for example, blindly following a Sat Nav system and not using your common sense when driving or trusting a parking camera/ticket issuing system to make an automated parking penalty charge, regardless of the situation. The current danger is therefore not that machines become more intelligent than we are – the real danger is human’s giving clueless machines authority beyond their competence.

Predictions by PWC say the risk of job displacement by technology is three per cent by the early 2020s in the first wave of automation; but rises up to 30 per cent by the third wave in the mid 2030’s. Occupations within the transportation industry could be at risk the soonest and at higher levels whilst jobs with social, emotional and literacy skill are at low risk.

Research conducted by EY concludes that this trend will not lead to job destruction, but job redesign where bots do the boring stuff and humans are freed up to do creative, inventive, inspiring work.

AI in Smart Buildings

Both humans and machines come with varying strengths. While humans are good at judgement, empathy, creativity, improvising and leadership, machines are good at following rules, data analysis, speed, accuracy, repetition and are always on. These strengths can be used to compliment each other and enhance the overall efficiency and productivity of the workplace.

The priorities in workplace strategy revolve around best use of space and tech to generate wellbeing, efficiency and ROI. In the Smart Building, intelligence within the building uses AI for many things including monitoring and control of energy use, security and room conditions. Single Pane of Glass technology combines with AI to offer simple touch control to monitor and manage from any screen, to keep everyone in the building safe and the conditions optimised. It is hard to measure the resulting effect on productivity in the workplace, although there is more focus on trying to capture this.

The 3-30-300 rule is a rule of thumb cited by JLL and created for Facilities Managers to show a comparative breakdown in occupancy cost savings per square foot – £3 for energy use, £30 for optimised space use and £300 for potential productivity uplift. Many FMs typically focus on the £3 and £30 share, utilities and space use, as the area they can make the most easily measurable impact. However, we need to think about how we can affect the £300 as this is by far the biggest return – and this is where the Smart Building really steps in.

SUNY Upstate Medical University has conducted experiments on the effect of CO2 concentrations in a crowded room on your mind and body – and how we perform. Rapidly increasing levels of C02 in poorly ventilated spaces such as meeting rooms can quickly have a direct impact on cognitive performance. By using AI to monitor and control the environment, this risk is avoided. It is interesting to consider how many board room or government decisions have been made in such conditions!

AI as enabler of space

Investment in physical collaborative spaces, including meeting areas and zoned spaces, food and beverage facilities and even extra-large staircases to encourage connections and movement though the building and face-to-face contact.

Technology works in the background to support optimal collaborative communication. Sound-masking and sound-scaping processes help control noise in an open environment. Background blur technology allows users to conference in from anywhere, regardless of what is in the background. Beam microphone technology – comes from above the meeting to provide invisible sound reinforcement.

The trend towards experiential offices continues. It has been cited that people feel better when they can see outside, so features such as huge interactive video walls and projection showing landscapes and external natural environments can make the workplace feel special. Simple, yet effective meeting tech such as a whiteboard camera can capture what you write on a traditional whiteboard and digitalise it in real time, allowing others to view and collaborate on the same work.

Augmented Reality has also found its use in a Smart Building, particularly with BIM and the ability to (virtually) see through walls – for example to see where a pipe is located, or a joint is likely to be the source of a leak.

Other digital tools such as sensors and facial recognition offer a host of benefits from workplace utilisation and location-based services, such as demand-driven service offerings, digital wayfinding and visitor management. Resource Management is also much easier via intelligent real-time systems that manage smart lockers, bike racks, meeting room booking and desk booking, through to catering services.

AI is the mechanism working behind the scenes making sure everything is working properly and efficiently. If it is used effectively, AI is ultimately the best friend one could have in the workplace… for now.

Nigel Miller is managing director of Cordless Consultants.