We’ve all heard the complaints about artificial intelligence: It’s going to steal human jobs. AI bots like Alexa are trying to take over our lives (and probably know more about us than they should). Even tech superstars like Elon Musk and Bill Gates are concerned about AI and its abilities.
But focusing on AI and emerging tech’s worst-case scenarios prevents us from being able to capitalize on the best-case outcomes. Robots enhance manufacturing, and Deloitte predicts AI can save governments large sums of money. And while AI may force some jobs to adapt to a new set of needs, it actually helps humans at work by saving their lives through predictive maintenance.
Perhaps the most exciting possible outcome of advancing AI is the time savings. What with streamlined workflows, automated processes, and the elimination of low-level work, this technology can give us back hours of time. It may even deliver a three-day workweek.
Are We Ready for Four-Day Weekends?
Three-day workweeks sound glorious to some, but they inspire fear in others. In the U.S., where people work longer hours than their international counterparts, long hours are a badge of honor. With an average 44-hour workweek in 2017, Americans have become notorious for squandering vacation time — even after receiving very little of it.
This culture of workaholism believes that the future of work is built on people working hard and making progress. But relying on long hours and dogged determination to fuel an economy overlooks the fact that progress actually comes from higher-level work being performed. Working exhausting hours and prioritizing face time over forward movement is a recipe for stagnation; workers have very little time, energy, or focus for the efforts that will genuinely impact the work their industries perform.
Enabling AI to automate and upgrade our businesses means we also have to be willing to take a more expansive view of what work looks like and ask ourselves tough questions. Which is more valuable: a five-day workweek focused on running routine processes and maintaining momentum or a three-day workweek centered on deep thinking and innovation? Each industry likely has its own answer, and it should have nothing to do with maintaining tradition — only serving needs.
Surrendering to AI
For those industries in which a three-day workweek is ideal, technology aims to help. “My vision of an AI-driven future is one where we will have a three-day workweek because machines would take care of the transactional activities that take up a large chunk of our working hours,” says K.R. Sanjiv, chief technology officer for Wipro Limited, a leading global information technology company. “This will give us more time to meditate on problems of a much higher order, meet friends, go out with the family, watch movies, read books, and, of course, pack our bags to go off to Kotor or Outer Mongolia to expand human consciousness.”
Sanjiv points out that fears that AI is a “gigantic steamroller that is flattening the IT jobs landscape” are not only false, but they also distract people from the fact that AI makes jobs better by eliminating mundane tasks that lead to burnout and boredom. He cites the example of digital photography, which initially greatly increased the number of people taking pictures, then caused sales of mobile phones to shoot through the roof when cameras were bundled into the devices.
“This cycle required two things: one, innovative companies and their smart workforce who could find ways of putting a camera on the phone at the lowest cost. Two, purchasing power all round had to go up for people to afford a $700 mobile phone. Both those things happened, creating a virtuous cycle. This is just one evidence of the fact that technology disrupts the job market in a positive way rather than destroying it.”
As the saying goes, nobody does anything great if she can’t find her keys. AI is ensuring that we can finally do what we’ve always said: allow time-saving technology to give us time back. With the “little things” taken care of, we’ll not only have fewer things to worry about, but we’ll also have regained mental capacity and flexibility to address problems in a new way, improving our work beyond mere efficiency.
How AI Will Take Over
Before the Industrial Revolution, people worked 60-hour weeks. Technology simply made it possible for us to get the same work done in 40 hours. This coming revolution — the AI era — aims to do the same, albeit in a more cerebral way. The Industrial Revolution was welcomed because it visibly made a difference in physical tasks. The AI era, in turn, will focus on eliminating low-level intellectual tasks.
Here are the ways we can anticipate AI changing our workweeks:
1. AI will take on quality control.
IBM Watson detects flaws and tests products for safety and performance. This saves brands millions of dollars in lawsuits, and it also enables human beings to focus on production, product innovation, and quality assurance advancements that can then be applied to the AI’s processes.
2. AI will automate to-do lists.
Spiro, an AI-driven CRM, has built a system that collects information from a salesperson’s email, calendar, and more to create a to-do list. That then frees up the salesperson to spend less time analyzing the right touchpoint or time to reach out to a prospect and more time building relationships.
3. AI will seek out problems for humans to solve.
IT and DevOps teams are wary of AI, which sounds suspiciously similar to the analytical and problem-solving skills they apply to their daily work. But AI will instead do the dirty work of highlighting problems in code, log entries, and more to identify the problem humans need to solve — saving them time so they can focus on developing the right solution.
It’s easy to stick with the doom-and-gloom story of AI, lamenting its ability to displace workers and collect invasive amounts of data. But this new way of looking at things can be just what we need to finally shift to short workweeks and long weekends, allowing humans to live their best possible lives — all thanks to robots.