In a recent study published by Lindsay Page and Hunter Gehlbach, an AI chatbot to text with incoming students at Georgia State University was shown to dramatically reduce “summer melt” — a phenomenon where students are accepted to college, but get bogged down with the summer paperwork, and then fail to show up for classes in September. GSU reduced summer melt by over 20% and increased enrollment by 3.9% using the AdmitHub chatbot.
This is just one in a series of recent examples that have confirmed my suspicions about the future of work: automation and AI will not just be “stealing human jobs”, it will add value in new ways that weren’t previously possible – or economically feasible.
AI is Joining the Workforce
As artificial intelligence has progressed, we have heard rumblings of how it will change the world. We’ve seen experiments, read theories, and observed self-driving cars and robots “practicing” before hitting the mainstream.
But now, finally, we are starting to see it in the real world.
The first wave of applied AI in the mainstream, which we are seeing now, is companies like AdmitHub applying AI to solve very specific real-world problems. In the case of the study, they didn’t create AI for the sake of AI — rather, they observed an immediate issue that needed to be solved, and created a specific AI to solve that issue. And they were successful.
This is where AI is going. Thousands of entrepreneurs around the world will see specific, solvable problems, and realize that AI has the potential to solve them in ways that humans haven’t.
In fact, most of the winners in automation and AI will not be the ones pushing products – “my AI algorithms are better than yours” – the winners will be the ones who solve business problems better than others, and incorporate platform, analytics, integration, and physical devices to make it happen. In other words, AI will turbocharge business process reengineering and continuous improvement efforts. Siri and the other virtual assistants now mean business.
AI is Creating New Jobs, Not Stealing Old Ones
It’s easy to look at the work that AdmitHub’s chatbot is doing and worry that it’s taking jobs from humans, but it isn’t the case.
Only a few elite and well-endowed colleges have the resources to enable admissions counsellors to work throughout the summer to help support incoming students. Even those that do are only able to handle inbound inquiries, not actively engage with students based on their situation.
For most schools, the cost to do even a decent job in this area would be hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the economics of the collegiate admittance decision just don’t support all the extra expense.
As a result, this isn’t a job being done by humans; it’s a job that’s not being done at all.
This is significant, because in this case it was too expensive to hire humans in the first place. AI isn’t replacing humans; it’s opening new opportunities for us to provide services to people that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without an exorbitant price tag.
By dramatically reducing the costs of these previously considered luxuries, AI is bringing them to the masses. In this case, AdmitHub is democratizing time-intensive care and support. In the future, services like chauffeur-driven cars and lectures from world-class professors, once the purview of the affluent, will be brought to the masses as well.
Peter Diamandis of Singularity University talks eloquently about living in exponential times. We are in the midst of not 1, not 2, but 7 simultaneous non-linear trends that are reshaping what is possible. Human beings have been wired over tens of thousands of years to think in linear terms – increase the input, and the output increases in a linear fashion. These non-linear forces change the equation, and humans have a hard time seeing the implications and possibilities. Advances in computational capability have made AI a game-changer, and AI is further amplified by dramatic improvements in, networks, sensors, robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, and materials science.
The Roles of Humans Won’t Go Away, They’ll Change
One of the most inspiring things about the Georgia State University study was that it didn’t lead to humans being dismissed. Rather, it led to the admissions staff of GSU focusing where they were they could make the biggest impact, and enhance the student experience.
As the AI learned and improved (handling 99.1% of messages), the GSU team was able to focus on two things: providing insights to tricky questions to better train the AI, and dealing with students who need individual human attention.
Instead of spreading their time across thousands of time-consuming messages, GSU’s admissions staff were able to focus their attention on the uniquely human tasks that make them feel most alive and make the biggest impact. This leads to happier, more fulfilled staff, and a far better experience for students.
I see this trend manifesting across other industries, especially in service-intensive processes. A recent example is customer service for Cisco, a leading telecom equipment provider, where automation actually improved the customer experience while enabling cost reductions of up to 80% and reducing 2 million hours of wait time per year in one process alone.
The use cases and examples are really growing, and the verdict is clear: AI should be doing the low-touch, tedious tasks and leaving humans to focus on providing excellent customer service and connecting with people. This is as true for governments, airlines, and telecom companies as it is for colleges.
There is a catch, of course. It means that we humans cannot afford to sit still, to rely on traditional skills to thrive in the future. But lifelong learning has always been important for human progress and fulfillment, and the AI revolution is simply accelerating and emphasizing the point. Perhaps it will take AI to help us truly become more human.