Many of the world’s best-known companies are beginning to recognise AI as a central component of their business. In 2014, Google bought AI start-up DeepMind for the sum of $400 million. Amazon incorporates AI across the majority of its operations; from its recommendations engine to the robots that man its warehouses. Joaquin Candela, the Head of AI Learning for Facebook, has stated that “Every time you use Facebook or Instagram or Messenger, you may not realise it, but your experiences are being powered by AI." Between 2013 and 2016 investment in AI tripled, with estimated spending in the range of £20 to £29 billion. However, research indicates that AI is still in its infancy; only around 20% of medium to large companies use one or more AI technologies in a core part of their business. Continued and rapid growth in this area is therefore predicted.

Increased profitability, efficiency and security are all potential advantages for businesses which implement AI appropriately. Machine learning software is being deployed to automatically detect and defend against cyber-attacks, which costs the global economy trillions every year. Private Equity groups such as Blackstone are beginning to use AI for the purposes of risk analysis and deal evaluations to predict returns on prospective investments.
AI systems can also prove helpful from a HR perspective; employers are using communication analysis to monitor employee engagement and can now tailor personalized, data-fuelled career plans which are mapped to an individual worker’s personality and learning style. These practices promise to not only drive up profits, but improve the employee experience and lead to a higher retention of talent.

Despite this, the workforce has responded to AI investments with considerable concern. In a survey of over 2,000 employees, more than a third (34%) said that overcoming employee resistance would be one of the main problems when implementing AI.

Whilst reasons given for this opposition include ethical issues and AI being susceptible to criminal use, the most common concern cited is the resulting loss of jobs. AI’s rapid advancement is beginning to threaten work previously thought to require a ‘human touch’. Experiences such as dining out could soon become devoid of human interaction; with driverless cars, robotics, payment systems, vision and natural language understanding, AI systems are able to perform the tasks of a driver, host, waiter, cashier, dishwasher and even chef - often more safely and efficiently.

Despite these daunting predictions, some argue that fear for the employment economy is misplaced; that, as in the Industrial Revolution, the loss of ‘traditional’ jobs will be compensated by the rise of jobs available in new industries, not least in the AI sector itself. This historical comparison has been discredited by the likes of Kiran Garimella, CTO of the blockchain platform KoreConX, who says “When jobs were lost to mechanization, jobs for the mind opened up.
What will happen when jobs for the mind become unnecessary or uneconomical?” Indeed, it seems unlikely that AI technology will generate nearly as many jobs as it will replace.

HR teams should be alert to the positive improvements that AI can make to their workplace. While there will be budgetary implications, managers should consider and propose AI to management that could help with efficiency in the workplace, smarter hiring of skilled talent and where appropriate, consolidation of roles. AI will be integral for those seeking to recruit for the best, as well as those companies prioritising equal opportunities as it can be used to highlight and remove unconscious bias in candidate selection. Appropriate policies and safeguards must be in place for the collection of employee’s personal data and redundancies must be handled carefully to reduce the risk of Tribunal claims. AI implementation in the workplace will change the role of the HR professional; adding efficiency, accuracy, but also new layers of complexity that will require careful consideration.
For further information, please contact Koichiro Nakada – Head of Japan Business Group (koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com) and Yoko Nakada - Senior Associate, Deputy Head of Japan Business Group (yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com).
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