Rise of the Chatbot

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1) state that “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law and a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

Science fiction and popular culture has given us one perspective on the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence in our human world; this tends to marvel in the sophistication of technology usually sparking a sense of fear and dread around a loss of control and technologies that we do not truly understand. As a result, some of us can be hesitant to embrace new technologies and are suspicious of how quickly technology advances.

AI in 2018 sees the rise of chatbots, Snapchat (2) glasses, drones taking aerial photos of your birthday party and shopping stores with no checkouts at all – as demonstrated by the Amazon Go store in Seattle USA (3). Taking the Amazon Go example, sensors within the store and an App are used to track what customers take off the shelves, what they put back and their credit card (stored on file) is charged at the end of the shopping trip. This takes hassle-free shopping to a new level.

Delving into the direction technology can take, Harvard Business Review (2018)(4) distinguishes three areas that we expect to see more of as a result of AI and its rate of progression…

1. Process automation – these types of tasks are described as “high volume, low complexity” routine admin activities. In today’s world this could include the technology used to track your parcel or being used to correctly identify a customer call and lead them to relevant department/operator.

2. Cognitive Insight – this is described as technology recognising patterns in data or algorithms. We commonly see this when our online browsing collects cookies so that store websites predict what we would like to buy based on previous online searches. When watching a YouTube video we find that a pair of shoes similar to the ones you looked at the other day is being advertised in the corner of the screen…

3. Cognitive engagement – using intelligent agents, cognitive engagement focuses on the way robots can move autonomously and more importantly, how they can collaborate with humans. Driverless cars showcase how robots, data, algorithms and sensors interact with other cars on the road to navigate safely through traffic.

If we look at the statistics, 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be computerised (McKinsey and Company 2017) (5) and statistics like these make people fundamentally question their purpose in the workforce.

Aiming to clarify these worries, data analytics can identify the likelihood of AI replacing a job. Using this software (6), research shows that jobs likely to be replaced by AI might be Retail salespeople (92% likely to be replaced), machine operators (62% likely to be replaced) and administrative services managers (73% likely to be replaced) to name a few examples.

The same data set indicates that jobs which are least likely to be replaced by AI might include Pharmacists (1.2% likely to be replaced), Human Resource Managers (0.5% likely to be replaced), and Public Relations Managers (0.5% likely to be replaced) to name a few examples.

On the other hand, there is a compelling case that AI has the potential to create more jobs than losses. According to reports from PwC (7), by 2037 AI looks to generate 200,000 new jobs, particularly in healthcare, science, education and even professional services sectors. This same report highlights that whilst London will see a boost in jobs generated, East Midlands is expected to see a reduction in jobs. However, this output is based on data that we know of right now and the reality is that we don’t know how far AI will change the workplace. This means that the types of jobs that will be available in the future is unclear. What is clear however is the focus for organisations should be on executing successful change management and effectively dealing with how people cope with the change.

“This means that the types of jobs that will be available in the future is unclear. What is clear however is the focus for organisations should be on executing successful change management and effectively dealing with how people cope with the change.”

OE Cam has significant experience working with organisations from a variety of sectors to design, develop and implement successful change management. We help managers understand that not only are humans still a valid member of the workforce, but with AI comes new opportunities and better ways of working: faster processes, greater accuracy, less bias, the opportunity to develop and learn new skills as well as more opportunities to collaborate.


New ways of working in Human Resources

AI will cluster the workforce into two; people who design the technology (train, explain and sustain its use) and those who will work with the technology on a day-to-day basis. As such, AI will impact the job design of both clusters of people including their job description and role specification at the very least.

For organisations it means revisiting their talent framework. For some, this might mean dividing work roles into three distinct areas:

  1. Solely human components of the job
  2. Solely technology-based components of the job
  3. Components that combine human and technology


Once these three areas have been established, job details can be defined by working with digital IT teams to explore questions such as:

  • How will technology be used?
  • Who will use the technology?
  • Who will the job holder have to communicate with?
  • How easy is it to communicate with these people?
  • Where will job holder be located and how much travel is involved?
  • Who does the job holder now report to/who reports to the job holder?

With respect to navigating the change with as little negative impact as possible, HR plays a critical role in effectively communicating with the relevant people how jobs and day-to-day tasks will change. With this, HR should ensure that the time is taken to listen to and support those individuals. In doing so, the organisation is positioned as supporting its people, which ultimately reduces negative impact as much as possible and limits the number of grievances reported. HR also has a significant role to play in developing the frameworks and processes to support people as job roles change. There is a need to listen, to support others and to fully appreciate why people worry about the impact and the change. HR can help people to see the positives and the opportunities that these now roles will provide. This would enrich and encourage people to fulfil their true potential.


What can Senior Leaders Add?

The fast pace of digital means that change is inevitable and the future is not certain. Therefore, agile leadership has become important and leaders have to shift, to adapt and modify behaviours depending on the prevailing conditions. In its more flexible form, the focus is on results and outcomes and the right leader is chosen by the team, which is in contrast to the leader driving the process and making the decisions. This is a more collaborative and structurally fluid approach.

AI also impacts the way in which power is distributed. Technology can bear some of the responsibility for the leader, meaning that leaders can dedicate more time to invest in developing their people.

Overarching these changes is the need for a leader who embraces the change that AI brings and drives it forward. Common leadership skills and behaviours that are considered to be effective in navigating through this change include, but are not limited to:

  • Openness to develop innovative solutions
  • Has a vision for the future
  • Champions ideas
  • Persuades and influences others to gain buy-in
  • Encourages cross functional working
  • Supports, motivates and inspires others
  • Adopts a “growth mind set” and encourages others to do the same
  • Agile and adaptable; flexible thinking style and way of working
  • Willing to experiment and trusts their team to do the same
  • Identifying talent and actively develops others.

In this way senior leaders can energise their people and drive success.


What is the Impact on Teams?

With new technologies comes remote working and as a result, teams are composed of individuals from across different functions of the business or/and all around the world who have to work together effectively. The biggest challenge most teams face with this new way of working is to keep people motivated.

The Red Balloon Challenge (8) that took place in USA in 2009 highlights how team motivation has changed now that technology has expanded the web of social relationships. This challenge asked teams to locate the GPS coordinates of 10 red balloons that were at fixed points across USA. The first team to collect the coordinates for all 10 balloons received a $40,000 prize. 4,000 teams entered the competition. The most common strategy amongst the teams were to reach out to people across the country on social media and other internet databases. However, there was one group of MIT students who took a different strategy and were able to locate all 10 balloons in only 8 hours and 52 minutes:

They decided to use financial incentives to motivate people:
• $2000 was given to the person who submitted the correct balloon co-ordinates
• $1000 was given to the person who invited the above individual to the challenge
• $500 was given to the person who invited the inviter
• $250 given to… so on and so on.

This example highlights that if we want to drive forward initiatives, leaders need to understand that cross-functional and/or remote working is no longer considered a hindrance to team effectiveness if each team member is given the relevant responsibility, accountability, reward and recognition.

“agile leadership has become important and leaders have shifted to adapt and modify behaviours depending on the prevailing conditions…”


Change is constant and all around us; take the retail sector for example, five years ago we would not have seen a potential merger between two competitive supermarkets – Sainsbury’s and ASDA. OE Cam works with organisations to not only look at the change process but look at the people elements surrounding this change. It is vital to recruit the right people into roles in order to get the best out of them as well as coach and develop people throughout the change process.

In a recent example, we worked with an organisation that has restructured their whole business. The consequence of this being that individuals are now working with a wider group of people and working in a different way.

OE Cam worked with these individuals by coaching them to think more broadly about their role and think differently about how they interact with people in order to bring the best out of the whole team.

The implications of AI for the individual can focus on the emotions, feelings and experiences when dealing with changes AI brings to the workplace. As a result, the need to understand and practise emotional intelligence is now more important than ever. Change incurs different emotions in different people and we may not all deal with it in the same way; with some people being more resilient than others.

With change can come confusion, worry, fear and feelings of losing control therefore, it is fundamental for individuals in the workplace to not only recognise their own emotions, feelings and behaviours and how this might impact others but also be vigilant to the emotions and behaviours of others.


New ways of working means that traditional forms of motivation like the carrot and stick approach may be less effective. Instead, individuals should be encouraged to explore what motivates them and share this with their managers. As a basis, Dan Pink (9) offers three elements to successfully motivating others: ensuring the work has purpose, ensuring the individual is given autonomy (allowing the individual to make decisions for themselves) and ensuring that the time is dedicated to developing the individual mastery. Similarly, models such as the “Job Characteristics Model” (10) (Hackman & Oldham (1976/1980) also identify that skill variety, meaningfulness of work and autonomy lead to greater motivation and greater work performance. OE Cam has worked with organisations to deliver creative workshops around dealing with change, understanding emotional intelligence and being resilient. Recently we have worked with teams on this area within a fast-moving organisation so that they were able to appreciate their own style, to enhance their approach and to achieve better outcomes, equipping them to face the challenges ahead.


The Way Ahead

So what does this all mean for AI in organisations? Undoubtedly there are challenges as new avenues open up with AI. However, it also presents significant opportunities to be faster, better and ahead of the curve. It can give that competitive edge that makes the difference. So ‘I Not Robot’ is so true. Humans are unique and different and can add an understanding of people and emotions into the mix. We are not machines but working with technology we can be better than before. The challenge is there for each and every one of us and our organisations. Let’s embrace the potential, make the most of AI and reach out for the brave new world.



1 . https://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/robotics.html
2. https://www.spectacles.com/uk/
3. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/21/amazons-first-automated-store-opens-to-public-on-monday
4. https://hbr.org/2017/04/thinking-through-how-automation-will-affect-your-workforce
5. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/featured%20insights/Digital%20Disruption/Harnessing%20automation%20for%20a%20future%20that%20works/MGI-A-future-that-works-Executive-summary.ashx
6. https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/
7. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/17/artificial-intelligence-will-be-net-uk-jobs-creator-finds-report
8. http://news.mit.edu/2011/red-balloons-study-102811
9. Pink, Daniel H. Drive: (2009) The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books, New York
10. Hackman, J.R., & Oldharn, G.R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 250-279