Adopting Generative AI in the workplace
At the recent 100% Human at Work Gathering in Sydney, Dr Sean Gallagher, Director of the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology, whose current research focuses on hybrid work and generative AI, talked about the opportunity presented by generative AI and what organisations can do to make better use of this evolving technology.
Humans vs technology
By mimicking how the human brain works, generative AI technology can complete cognitive tasks extraordinarily well. Generative AI tools learn patterns and structures from very large data sets, which enables them to generate text, images, code, video, music, molecules and more in response to user prompts. While there is positivity around generative AI and the inclusive workforce, there is also debate around the threat generative AI poses to jobs.
Sean challenged the audience on this with the bold statement that “humans have been taking technology’s jobs for 200 years.” He asked whether the work we have been doing, is the best that a human is capable of. Traditionally, we have been focused on humans undertaking routine tasks and activities, and the skills they require to perform them. But Sean questioned what would happen if we stopped repeating this formula, leaving the tasks and activities to AI so that we can realise human potential.
Use of generative AI in Australian workplaces
Sean shared new data on the use of generative AI in Australian workplaces based on research undertaken at Swinburne University of Technology in partnership with Deloitte, which uncovered:
27% of Australian workers are ‘high-frequency users’ who use generative AI tools in their workplaces on a weekly basis
Of these high-frequency users, more than 75% of workers say that they use it for tasks such as drafting and editing
65% use generative AI for advanced tasks such as coding and learning
Approximately 54% of people put it to work on creative tasks such as generating new ideas
These data suggest that millions of Australian workers are getting to know how to use AI and getting more sophisticated in their use of it – and those that use it more are often undertaking higher-value tasks. However, many millions more are being left behind.
However, one area of possible concern is the lack of formal or informal policy around AI use in workplaces, with approximately only one in three workers reporting that they are using Gen AI within guidelines provided by their employers. But this also demonstrates an opportunity as where policies and formal training exist, it leads to higher frequency users and higher value tasks.
Democratising generative AI in the workplace
Sean advocates for democratising the uptake of AI in organisations, potentially with HR departments taking the lead on strategy. He suggests that organisations provide a psychologically safe space for everyone to experiment with AI as the way it works for some people will be completely different to how it works for others. AI is intuitive but this intuition comes from using it over a longer period of time.
Sean says: “There will be a moment in professional life when you realise that AI has crossed a benchmark and that it is relevant for you in your area of expertise. We need to help everyone in every organisation to get to this point.”
Generative AI and the future
Sean believes that generative AI is part of a positive experience in the human workplace. While there is a threat to certain roles and tasks, we should also focus on what is uniquely human.
“Our ability to deeply understand other humans, to show curiosity and creativity, to understand context and make judgement, to navigate the future and figure out uncertainty – these are the highest value creating activities in any organisation,” he says. “All of these uniquely human traits are core to the future of our organisations.”