AI in the Workplace: Automation, Meet Augmentation
Media coverage around automation has largely focused on the idea of replacing human workers. At Stevens, a broad base of academic programs in data science and machine learning, and research into AI applications, envision a world where machines and humans work alongside each other in meeting new kinds of challenges.
As artificial intelligence continues to evolve, it generates constant headlines about the automation of industries previously thought off-limits to machines.
But Stevens business professor Jeff Nickerson urges you not to hit the panic button.
“We ought to be thinking through how to use these tools in productive ways — how we can make teams of humans and AI that work together to accomplish large-scale goals,” said Nickerson, associate dean of research at the School of Business at Stevens.
Nickerson is co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that has created a research collaboration network to better define the future of intelligent machines in the workplace. That means a greater emphasis on how technology can augment humans at work, rather than replace them.
That’s a narrative that’s largely been missing in broader media coverage of the digital revolution, which has emphasized job losses due to automation — the idea of replacement, rather than reinforcement, as artificial intelligence continues to evolve. But at Stevens, the story is very different. The Stevens Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a broad base of academic programs in data science and machine learning, and research into AI applications very much envision a world where machines and humans work alongside each other in meeting new kinds of challenges.
“This is a topic that I believe is engaging for all the disciplines studied here at Stevens, from researchers in the computer science department to our own experts in labor economics, corporate governance and task design,” Nickerson explained.
Nickerson is a collective intelligence expert whose insights into how people collaborate in the digital space — from coordination among Wikipedia editors to the kinds of problems crowds are best equipped to solve — have prepared him to lead the discussion surrounding humanity’s next great collaborative endeavor.
The NSF grant was awarded in partnership with researchers from Syracuse University, who will help Nickerson build the intellectual might to begin framing the conversation about AI and jobs. This work, which is now under way, involves building a network of professionals across disciplines — in both industry and academia — and organizing an annual conference that will help demonstrate the interconnected nature of the problems and opportunities of intelligent machines.
“In order to really get a handle on this, we need people in computer science who understand machine learning, we need people in business schools who understand concepts like task design and business processes, and we need experts in psychology, sociology, economics, law and policy,” Nickerson said.