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Companies that use AI to replace workers will ultimately lose, Stanford University professor says

Sawdah Bhaimiya   

Companies that use AI to replace workers will ultimately lose, Stanford University professor says
  • A Stanford University professor said savvy companies won't use AI to replace workers or jobs.
  • He said that AI should be used alongside workers because they each have different strengths.

Companies are racing to deploy AI in the workplace but one Stanford University professor said the technology should be used to "complement people" rather than replace them altogether.

Erik Brynjolfsson, a director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab and a professor, spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday during a session called "The World in Numbers: Jobs." Brynjolfsson also co-authored the 20111 book "Race Against the Machine."

Brynjolfsson explained that savvy companies will use AI in conjunction with workers because some tasks are better completed by humans and others by machines.

"It can happen through augmentation and that means you don't try to replace the entire task or the entire occupation, you use the tool to augment it," Brynjolfsson said giving the example of a study carried out in a call center.

"We studied how you could use generative AI to help the call center operators do a better job and within three to four months, they were already on average about 14% more productive — more calls per hour," he said.

"They also had higher customer satisfaction, they also had less employee turnover. So stockholders, customers, workers all were better off," he added.

He added that the company was successful in implementing AI in that way because "they let the humans do what they were good at and the machines do what they're good at."

Some companies have been laying off workers as they implement AI.

Duolingo recently cut 10% of its contractors. A spokesperson said that the job cuts weren't a "straight replacement" of workers with AI but that it could be partly attributed to the new technology.

Other companies are using AI to boost their existing workforce. Deloitte, for example, previously said it was using AI to prevent layoffs by having it assess employees' skills and figure out how to move them into more in-demand roles.

"You can use technologies as competitors and try to replace people and you're going to lose that race or you can use it to complement people," Brynjolfsson said.

"We're not going to have a place where everything gets automated. We're far from that kind of a world.

"Instead we're seeing a world where some tasks are automated, some are augmented, and humans are still important. So there's a new set of combinations that are needed. The companies that do that effectively are going to harvest the greatest productivity gains," he added.

Some workers are naturally concerned about whether AI is coming for their jobs as the hype around the technology continues.

Two CEOs working on new robotic technologies echoed Brynjolfsson's point, telling Business Insider that workers don't need to fear that AI will replace them.

Instead, the technology will take on more dangerous, mundane, or repetitive tasks, leaving humans to focus on more creative, meaningful, and interpersonal work, they said.

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