Changing the Discussion on AI and Employment — Using AI to Help Improve Productivity, Employee Satisfaction and Profits
There is general unease and fear about Artificial Intelligence. This should not come as a surprise: all big technological breakthroughs have faced resistance. Some of these concerns have turned out to be very justified, some were completely misplaced but the truth has often been somewhere in between. What determines the outcome is as much how we deploy the technology as the intrinsic properties of the technology itself.
One of the fears around AI is that it will lead to massive unemployment. It would be overambitious to attempt to address all industries and all AI in this brief blog, so I will limit the discussion to the use of AI in traditional retail (sometimes referred to as brick and mortar retail, misguidedly placing the emphasis on the building instead of the people, as we will argue below). To provide some background, we should briefly examine the state of traditional retail. Hardly a day goes by without reports of a traditional retail store closing hundreds of locations or going out of business. One of the major reasons is due to competition from online retailers.
Will traditional retail disappear completely? As real as the impact of online retail is, the current impact is perhaps exaggerated: online retail sales, at less than 10% of total retail, were smaller than convenience store sales alone in the United States last year. On the other hand, online retail has forever changed customer expectations and the main issue is the ability of traditional retail companies to match these new expectations. Personalization, convenience, availability and competitive pricing are often cited as top advantages of online retailers over brick and mortar ones. But when we view overall expectations of customers from their retail experience, experience and human touch are right along with these other four at the top the list according to the most recent customer survey by PWC. In fact, most customers feel that humans are indispensable for a good experience.
So, using AI to replace employees in traditional retail would not be a good idea even if it were feasible. Instead we should focus on developing AI to empower management and employees to deliver great customer experience. Although this has not been the focus of most well-known high-tech companies(Amazon Go, Uber and Waymo autonomous vehicles, etc.), at RadiusAI, we have made this our primary objective.
There are technical challenges in developing a human-centric AI capability. While individual AI modules of a traditional (non-human-centric) AI capability can be deployed somewhat independently, a human-centric capability has to be deployed as a complete system. Human interaction requires a real-time AI system deployed at the edge, i.e., where the human interaction occurs and not in the cloud.
RadiusAI Retail extracts demographic information and recognizes repeat customers (without any personally identifiable information and respecting privacy) and feeds information of what kind of promotions could be best suited to a store attendant. If the customer has agreed to being part of a loyalty program, the attendant can greet the customer by name (provided by the AI system) and offer help based on the customer’s preferences. A personalized interaction results in better customer experience and higher employee satisfaction. Studies show that employee satisfaction is strongly correlated with customer loyalty, productivity and employee retention.
When AI is part of a human-centric full-stack solution that meets a customer need, everybody wins including the employees.