We're not at Marty McFly-level future tech just yet, but office innovations are catching up quick. An AI assistant that manages your calendar would've sounded like science fiction five years ago. Today, startups, like x.ai, sell a business scheduling tool that lets them take over the role of a traditional virtual assistant—scheduling your calendar appointments for you and managing the back-and-forth.
Sound superfluous? Let's face it—you don't need a human managing your calendar. You can offload that type of mundane task by turning to AI, but AI can change more than just the basics. As Wall Street Journal's Ted Greenwald points out, AI is transforming the workplace—the whole workplace. It can crunch giant amounts of data based on a job advertisement and find the absolute best candidates or analyze workers' happiness, "so bosses can give them more attention before their performance takes a nose dive or they start doing things that harm the company."
Don't panic—we've done this before
Millions of people feared Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet software when it came onto the scene in the 1980s, because it might steal jobs—or worse: Make people lazy. Decades later, Excel is a staple of daily office life. It makes communicating and sharing information easier in a work context, and ultimately, people get more done. With this innovation, we all broke a sweat for nothing. In most offices, there are roles that use Excel so heavily that taking it away would elicit a reaction like this:
A more modern example is in Google's work to add a little AI magic to its G Suite set of tools. As you're typing, Google's AI analyzes your words and automatically suggests action items for assigning to coworkers. In Google Forms, the AI suggests potential answers to questions you're posing as you create a survey. Talk about a time saver.
Microsoft is all-in on AI, too, with a new tool in Word that helps you pick your wording as you write. It'll point out word choice problems, weak language, passive voice, and many other common mistakes, then suggest corrections. It's not going to write your essay for you, but it's a pretty big help.
Avoid automation for automation's sake
Here's the catch for IT: Right now, we could automate just about everything in the office. Every small task could have its own top-rated app, leading to daily use of way too many programs. It's a user's greatest horror and IT's greatest headache. All the logins, all the passwords, all the updates, and all the security implications to manage—a business scheduling tool that comes into your office needs a really solid case. When's the right time is to use an AI tool, and when should you stick with your own two hands? The answer: It's complicated.
Much of these emerging tools are still in their early days, and what's unclear is whether they can actually make better decisions than their human counterparts. It's also hard to evaluate that fact on the surface. If you're now accepting applications to hire an AI scheduling tool, how do you measure its effectiveness?
AI isn't here to take away from your employee's tasks—it should supplement them in areas humans aren't so good at, like crunching huge data sets and coming to a conclusion. AI is starting to invade every part of our lives, from analyzing our photo libraries to suggesting a place for dinner—so let's see where it fits in at work. On surface level, AI may seem subtle—but the sheer magnitude of data going into it under the hood is astounding, simply to make your job easier. And that's something we can all appreciate.