There is no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times when it comes to how quickly AI is driving commercial adoption and sweeping multi-industry revolutions. It’s one of the first times in history that it seems all the possibilities (and concerns) about AI are materializing.
One phenomenon quietly shifting how different verticals operate is the rise of digital employees—yes, you heard that right.
What Are Digital Employees?
Digital employees are virtual entities backed by artificial intelligence programs designed to execute tasks traditionally performed by human employees. These digital employees are becoming more common in building cutting-edge business teams that remain ahead of the curve, reshaping the future of work as we know it.
One of the first examples of a digital employee in action dates as far back as 2014. Amelia, the AI developed by IPsoft in 2014, has capabilities that go beyond simple task execution. The digital employee is able to learn, understand and even mimic human empathy. Typical tasks range from providing customer service support to taking on much more complex IT operations. In other words, Amelia's ability to adapt, learn and respond in real-time sets a new benchmark for digital employees and their potential impact on industries.
Another example that is growing in popularity has become “hiring” AI interns. A recent example is Codeword—the company hired two AI interns, Aiko and Aiden, as part of their 2023 winter internship program. This effort embraces the AI revolution beyond bold statements and abstract plans, taking clear action toward leveraging AI in full to bolster human-AI collaboration avenues and break down traditional boundaries of teamwork.
The above major strides in technology not only showcase the already tangible advancements but also hint at a future of work that’s in many ways transformed by AI, bringing on its own unique set of opportunities and challenges.
Potential Benefits Of Digital Employees
Why are digital employees becoming a more common trend? Organizations are starting to realize that AI workers offer several compelling advantages to join forces with human employee counterparts and drive better results.
Efficiency And Productivity
Digital employees can work 24/7 and execute tasks at speeds typically faster than humans, improving productivity and efficiency. This is especially crucial in cases with tedious administrative tasks. With AI lending a hand in execution, human employees get a better chance to focus their efforts on issues and opportunities that require human judgment and strategic thinking.
AI can often require minimal monetary input compared to hiring full-time human resources due to a lack of additional costs such as healthcare, pensions, other benefits or even office space. Over time, the investment in AI could have the potential to provide savings and efficiencies that can be reinvested in other business initiatives.
Digital employees can typically be replicated and deployed across multiple operations, allowing businesses to scale up (or down) in response to fluctuating market demands. This allows for an arsenal of additional resources that can support functions and departments across the organization that requires additional hands on deck.
Implications And Challenges
With all the advantages that digital employees offer, the integration of digital employees is not without implications. The following are challenges leaders need to think about alongside the implementation strategy for new solutions.
There are concerns about AI causing job displacement, with machines potentially taking over roles currently occupied by humans. These concerns are nothing new; they have divided the supporters and skeptics around AI adoption for years. While we know that AI could replace repetitive, low-skill jobs, it is also anticipated to create new jobs requiring unique human skills and expertise.
Data Privacy And Security
Digital employees handle a vast amount of sensitive information, raising concerns about data privacy and security. Stringent cybersecurity measures and policies are imperative for companies considering using digital employees.
As AI becomes more sophisticated, ethical questions around transparency, fairness and accountability become increasingly top-of-mind. These challenges call for robust ethical guidelines for AI usage—and this includes establishing guidelines and processes around human-AI collaborations, relationships and symbiosis.
As these challenges come to the fore, they are also reshaping the VC landscape, guiding strategic investments and acquisitions. More and more, we see VC support increasingly pivoting toward and backing companies that are innovating AI solutions, creating robust cybersecurity measures and developing strategies for employee reskilling and up-skilling.
Moving forward, the successful integration of digital employees will depend on balancing AI advancement with the implementation of ethical guidelines, the creation of new job roles and prioritizing security measures that ensure smooth sailing. Digital employees are by no means here to replace humans completely.
Instead, they complement human capabilities and promote a more efficient and innovative workforce. The key to success with digital employees is educating the human employees on the benefits of their digital counterparts and fostering an environment in which the human workforce can embrace and utilize AI employees to their full potential.
The Future Of Work
The future of work lies at the intersection of human creativity and digital efficiency; it could be the recipe for rapid growth and increased productivity. The rise of digital employees is one of the first signs that offer a glimpse into a future in which artificial intelligence and humanity coexist and collaborate—making the future of work more flexible, inclusive and dynamic.
Originally published in Forbes