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Artificial Intelligence and its Impact on Remote Work

Search Remotely Artificial Intelligence Implications for Remote Work 1 compressed

Before we embark down the rabbit hole of artificial intelligence and the possible impact on remote work, let’s pinpoint our understanding of remote work.

Remote work defined

Remote work, according to Gartner Technology includes working from anywhere, work from home and telecommuting are defined as work that can be completed outside of an in person, traditional office setting.

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Work tasks that require in person physical presence to complete an assignment (short order cook, waitress, hotel bellhop, physical security, and construction, for instance) do not lend themselves very well to offsite task completion. On the other hand, tasks associated with office administration, accounting, finance, banking, customer service, computer programming, coding.

Remote work intensive industries

In fact, Forbes research shows that the top industries where indications that the transformation to remote work has been almost seamless:

  • Banking, 56% survey respondents felt the transition to remote work has been excellent,
  • Government Sector, 53% of public sector respondents rated transition excellent, and
  • Manufacturing, 56% believed the transition to remote work has been good.

The legal field, accounting, management consulting, and finance says industry experts participating in the Forbes survey were well prepared to adopt remote work policies during the Covid-19 pandemic. The back office operations of the health care field (claims processing, billing, and collections) were also well suited to virtual work.

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Jobs at risk due to Artificial Intelligence

Now that we have loosely defined remote work, let’s discuss work in general. Encyclopedia Britannica defines work as the activities necessary to maintain a civil society. Less abstract though, work represents the tasks workers earn a wage for producing a good or providing a service at a price that is profitable for their employers.

What are the implications of artificial intelligence on remote work?

The Atlantic cited 2013 Oxford research, forecasting these jobs as most at risk once Artificial Intelligence (AI) is fully adopted:

  • telemarketing,
  • manually hand sewing items, and
  • brokerage clerking.

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Creative tasks at risk too from Artificial Intelligence

Almost a decade later, the Atlantic encountered AI startups holding promise to develop AI programs that they say will supplant formally human-based skills and tasks centered around creativity:

  • reading, writing, and summarizing articles, manuscripts, and operational manuals,
  • drawing, painting, and creative editing of images,
  • audio editing and music writing,
  • video-game designing and developing, and
  • blueprinting architectual designs.

In 2017, a mere four years later, Forbes cited research showing that 87% of employees surveyed felt that their some elements of their jobs would be  automated in five years! At the same time, 80% held hope that automation and artificial intelligence would open the floodgates of new opportunities.

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Remote work and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Overlap

This research is consistent with an HBR article demonstrating the four industries that are already using AI:

  • information technology,
  • marketing,
  • finance, and
  • customer service.

To wit, this list overlaps the list of industries who have given full-throated, all-in endorsement of remote work.

So, if one were to dissect AI, we’d see if AI has the potential to impact remote work, even when we aren’t employed in one of the threatened industries. We ask the question, “what is Artifical Intelligence (AI)?” AI represents a computerized program that replicates the work activities of workers; whether situated at a virtual home office or in a traditional office setting.

Tasks that can be Replicated with Artificial Intelligence (AI)

A 2022 research article appearing in Artificial Intelligence and Society provides this breakdown of work tasks that can be replaced with AI.

  • coordination machinery and manufacturing processes
  • management of human resources
  • evaluation of accounting, forecasting of investment, finance, and business analysis
  • predictions of and communications to customers and account management
  • modeling of legal, medical and psychological risk and benefit outcomes
  • creation and management of marketing and advertising programs
  • distribution, recording, and stocking of physical inventory and logistics management, and
  • transportation of products to end users

With the promise of AI, it is hard not to wonder if employees, freelancers and independent contractors and gig workers working from home aren’t threatened by the coming of age of AI. Researchers predict that accounting firms, banks and management consulting firms will utilize AI to increase productivity.

Artificial Intelligence Promises Increased Productivity

Back in 2016, Accenture estimated that labor production could increase by up to 40% by 2035 with AI initiatives. At the time, Accenture projected that sectors to readily adopt AI would be those in the information technology, communication, manufacturing and financial services.

Key Implications of AI on Work:

  • labor intensive skills may be much harder to replicate using AI. Occupations such as: security, plumbing, electrical, cleaners, gardeners, receptionists, chefs, and the like. See (Gries and Naudé 2018, 4)
  • human skills can be complemented with AI rather than replaced. For instance AI can be used interpret complex commercial loan agreements, draft preliminary legal documents, map rare diseases for development of new pharmaceuticals, make initial medical diagnosis for possible rule out, and assist with the automation of rote and redundant manufacturing processes

Suggested Employer Supports to Assist Employee Transition to AI

To ease the workforce into the work of the future, heavily predicated on artificial intelligence and automation, Forbes suggests that employers do the following:

  • increase training and professional development budgets
  • re-create work based upon roles to emphasize gig, freelance work flows within the company
  • develop rather than poach from competitors the talent pipeline

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Conclusion: Even Humans are Needed to Develop and Promote AI

To conclude, remote freelance gig workers and independent contractors will be needed to advance AI.  Why? A lot of humans are needed to find the data, clean the data, interpret the data, write hypothesis statements, build the rules of the data set, develop if/then statements, and to create exceptions to rules. All of these tasks are needed to build and fine tune an AI program. This statement is echoed by many researchers, namely (Gray and Suri 2019; Tubaro and Casilli 2019; Tubaro et al. 2020).

The magnitude of human involvement in the building, maintaining, modifying, and promoting AI programs for use by the end users are often obscured by AI advocates and technological futurists. So much so that researchers Gray and Suri in 2019 coined the term “ghost work” to represent “human work invisible to the outside but necessary for “automated” processes to function.”


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