Darren Person is the Chief Digital Officer at Circana. He leads the company’s new digital initiatives that combine marketing and technology.
Across industries, people have been voicing worries about artificial intelligence replacing jobs. These worries aren’t unfounded: A report published by the Pew Research Center in July 2023 indicated that in 2022, “19% of American workers were in jobs that are the most exposed to AI, in which the most important activities may be either replaced or assisted by AI.” What’s more, a June 2023 report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that in May 2023, 3,900 jobs were cut due to AI. On the flip side, some companies have restricted or banned the use of AI in their workplaces.
Business leaders shouldn’t approach AI from these two extremes. They shouldn’t consider AI as a direct replacement for jobs, nor should they back away from it. Instead, they should shift their mindsets and view this technology as a co-pilot.
An ‘Us Versus Them’ Mentality Will Get Companies Nowhere
The reality is that AI is here to stay, and companies that want to be innovative will need to leverage it smartly. The companies that don’t lean into it risk falling behind their competitors eventually. Consider some of the other market disruptions we’ve seen and the companies that failed because they didn’t get ahead of those disruptions. A prominent example? Video rental stores. As one bankruptcy case study noted, Giants Movie Gallery and Blockbuster “began struggling to compete with streaming and mailing platforms,” and both were “driven into bankruptcy because they failed to adapt quickly enough.”
Business leaders should not approach AI with an “us versus them” mentality. As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Think about this: When your industry is being disrupted, who better to take the helm than you?
Replacing Jobs With AI Is Not The Answer
However, some business leaders have jumped to the other extreme, using AI to replace employees. Companies are generally trying to reduce costs and grow simultaneously. With AI in the mix, there’s arguably greater tension between these two goals—executives might be inclined to view AI as a quick cost-saving measure. But this, in my view, is not the answer in many cases. Over-reliance on AI could hinder or dismantle critical business functions.
A research paper published in June 2023 gives valuable insights into the risks of AI. While the researchers focused on the education sector, collecting student data, I believe their findings are relevant to the corporate world. The researchers noted that although AI “benefits education and assists in many academic and administrative tasks,” the results show that “using AI in education increases the loss of human decision-making capabilities, makes users lazy by performing and automating the work, and increases security and privacy issues.”
As I’ve previously written, AI should not replace critical thinking. Nor should it replace creativity. It is not a foolproof tool and could put companies in situations where they unintentionally misguide their customers with inaccurate AI-generated information. And that’s not the only risk. If companies become too dependent on AI, they can make the wrong decisions, produce outputs that don’t resonate with their customers and jeopardize the security and privacy of their employees, vendors and customers.
When Used As A Co-Pilot, AI Can Enable Employees To Work Differently—And Produce Better Results
Rather than viewing AI as a direct replacement for jobs, business leaders should treat AI like a co-pilot. When companies leverage AI strategically, they can help their employees work differently in more productive ways, yielding better results.
For instance, a company’s management team could decide to automate data entry so that employees no longer have to enter data into spreadsheets manually. With that change, employees can approach their work as validators and checkers. Instead of painstakingly typing in number after number, they can make sure the various data points are where they are supposed to be—and quickly catch any discrepancies or errors. Meanwhile, they have more time for high-level thinking; now that they no longer have to enter data manually, they have more mental space to think about the relationships between the various data points and perform predictive modeling, for example.
When employees can skip the repetitive parts of their roles and accomplish specific tasks faster, they have greater leeway to develop and implement the ideas that will usher in the next wave of innovation.