Person's hand holding a blue pen drawing a productivity flowchart.
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AI can ‘augment’ human workers’ productivity, not replace them

28 Mar 2023

Seth Elliott, COO of strategy execution platform Quantive, discusses how workers are using AI to boost productivity at work and why it’s sensible to ask questions about tech evolution.

AI technology and workers are frequently pitted against each other, as if the technology was its own sentient entity and not a blanket term given to a wide array of tools designed to automate a lot of the mundane tasks that humans have to do.

Some people say that AI will mean that a lot of office work, which can be automated, will become obsolete. Others, like Seth Elliott, COO at Quantive (formerly known as Gtmhub), believe that AI will augment the skills that humans already have and help them be more productive at work.

Not that Elliott is dismissive of people’s concerns around AI. When asked to address the issue – which is something of an elephant in the room these days – by, he says that it is “very reasonable” for people to ask questions.

As a member of Quantive’s executive team, Elliott has been working on the development of AI tools since long before it became a hot-button issue.

“This is no different from any wave of technology that we’ve seen in the past – there’s always this question of disruption and dislocation,” he says.

‘The ability to effectively use AI will become a core skillset of many jobs. I think what we’re seeing is really this leveraging of human beings, not this replacement of human beings’

Quantive is what is known as a strategy execution platform, meaning it develops tech to help companies manage their objectives and key results and anything to do with productivity.

Elliott has a keen professional interest in how technology can help workers and businesses become more productive.

“It is augmenting human intelligence and activity; it’s not really replacing it,” he says. He cites a recent research paper published earlier this month by OpenAI, the company behind AI sensation (or scourge, depending on your perspective) ChatGPT.

Published with Open Research and University of Pennsylvania scholars, the paper looked at the impact ChatGPT and similar tech could have on the US labour market.

The report’s findings indicated that approximately 80pc of the US workforce could have at least 10pc of their work tasks affected by the tech, while around 19pc of workers may see at least half of their tasks impacted.

Continuing nuances

“There will be some continuing nuances” as Elliott puts it. AI is a pretty huge beast, and most of the figuring out of how it will fit into ordinary people’s working lives will likely be trial and error. One thing Elliott is certain of is that the jobs of the future will require some level of AI competence.

“The ability to effectively use AI will become a core skillset of many jobs. I think what we’re seeing is really this leveraging of human beings, not this replacement of human beings.”

There’s no suggestion from the ChatGPT data that jobs will disappear, Elliott says; instead, more jobs might be created as a result of the new tech.

People will list skills like ChatGPT on their CVs when applying to jobs. Tools like Microsoft Word’s spellchecker and meeting reminders are also AI capabilities that a lot of us rely on, perhaps without even thinking about it.

From start-ups to Big Tech firms, there is a lot of experimentation going on at the moment and the results vary. Google’s chatbot Bard is particularly prone to mistakes, for example – and no AI tool is completely infallible.

When AI is helpful, it can be an excellent way of saving time, particularly for businesses which have to deal with a lot of repetitive tasks. Quantive, which recently rebranded from its old name Gtmhub, makes AI to provide suggestions for businesses informed by their objectives and key results (OKR).

Its acquisition of London-based boosted its offering, and Elliott says the company is focused on boosting its product using machine learning and AI.

Quantive’s platform uses AI to give suggestions to help companies refine their OKRs as well as manage them. It also helps teams carry out internal searches.

Overall, “the laundry list has gotten pretty big” in terms of what AI technologies can be used for. “They can be used as a kick-starter for brainstorming new products or new services, a framework architecture for content that can then be fine-tuned and shaped into editable drafts; you can generate images now, obviously, and people are generating images. They can set you tasks or suggest initiatives similar to what we’re delivering.”

Microsoft Copilot, the suite of AI for enterprise tools that Microsoft launched recently, is another platform for businesses to automate a lot of their day-to-day tasks using AI.

“Copilot is the many, many generations evolution of Clippy maybe,” Elliott says invoking the pre-AI chatbot that’s better known today as a quaint meme.

“But Copilot is incredible. Now you can use Copilot throughout Microsoft Teams; you can prepare updates; it will identify action items that might have come out of Teams meetings; you can use it in Microsoft Word; you can put data in Excel and ask it to create pivot tables for you without having to actually create a pivot table.”

AI tech is gradually changing the way we work

All of these developments are proof for Elliott that “AI is starting to really hit its stride. And we’re starting to see some really intriguing things, such as how people have started to use AI to suggest how to create new businesses.”

His point on the creation of new businesses on the back of AI advancements is one that has been espoused by others, too.

‘I don’t want to be dismissive of people’s concerns… let’s not forget, as far back as the printing press, people were talking about the evils of the printing press and the evil of widespread literature. So, I think that this [distrust] is a natural reaction to a technological advancement’

Well-known US economist and author George Gilder told recently that humans have nothing to worry about when it comes to AI coming in to our work lives.

“There are more and more companies performing more and more functions with fewer and fewer people. That’s an enhancement of human liberty. There’s more entrepreneurs and fewer workers, which is really the history of increased human productivity,” he told our reporter Vish Gain.

He said that ChatGPT was not independently creative, and this is something Elliott agrees with. Elliott says that generative AI will not be churning out articles or novels to replace writers; nor will it be replacing coders by writing code. It will just make these tasks easier. People will still be needed to understand the code and correct its errors.

“I think that it will be used for the augmentation of human for the foreseeable future, as opposed to simply removing them from their job.”

“I don’t want to be dismissive of people’s concerns,” Elliott says. He’s aware of the ethical concerns around AI in particular, and he thinks a certain amount of suspicion is natural – even human.

“But let’s not forget, as far back as the printing press, people were talking about the evils of the printing press and the evil of widespread literature. So, I think that this [distrust] is a natural reaction to a technological advancement.”

“And in this case, I think it’s important just to start looking at the data and recognising that it’s not that we’re seeing people likely to be put out of work by AI, but rather that it is a skillset that will need to be developed in order to take advantage of the tool.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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