“Almost every building system has implications for productivity in physical offices and all systems can benefit from a layer of artificial intelligence (AI) over their processes. Greater intelligence around air quality, temperature, and lighting, for example, leads to increased occupant comfort and, therefore, productivity. The use of AI for access, security, cybersecurity, and predictive maintenance, meanwhile, reduces disruption to support productivity. Even AI energy management, while reducing cost, creates greener buildings that boost loyalty and attract better talent, which in turn increases productivity,” reads our recent article on the adoption of intelligent workplaces in various commercial building verticals.
There is little doubt that AI is set to revolutionize the workplace, bringing unprecedented safety, efficiency, and productivity to organizations. The real question is how we get from here to that artificially intelligent future of work. Today, we are going through huge disruption in the workplace as the pandemic has prevented workers from going to their offices for much of the last 18-months, the rise of remote work is driving consolidation of office space, and the inevitable post-COVID economic downturn is driving budgetary constraints. At the same time, companies are beginning to understand that smart building technology offers the best chance of overcoming challenges and returning employees to the workplace safely.
While AI has been slowly developing for decades, recent technological leaps and the massive disruption caused by the pandemic has completely changed the office landscape. Cloud computing is in place, big data is increasingly established, connectivity is reaching new heights, effectively our journey to intelligent workplaces re-starts now with the significant challenges of the new normal. Office owners and operators are faced with two opposing forces, the temporary need for more space to allow social distancing and the potentially long-term implications of remote work reducing space requirements in physical offices. To navigate this new landscape their buildings need to be smart and intelligent.
“Surveys that seek to understand the likely future patterns of work as we emerge from the grip of the pandemic have come up with wildly differing conclusions as to what businesses should expect in terms of space demand, depending on the audience, country and time the survey occurred over the course of the pandemic,” explains our new AI & Machine Learning in Smart Commercial Buildings report. “To support the overall transition towards hybrid working, executives across the world are planning increased investment in new tools to better understand occupancy requirements, as well as IT infrastructure to secure virtual connectivity.”
Smart technology in the form of occupancy analytics provides the essential data for AI-enabled analytics to make sense of, and garner actionable insights from, the intelligent workplace. The complexity of this new landscape demands that extra intelligence, but AI is not just a route to return employees to work safely. The real benefits are much longer term as AI promises to improve workplaces in a wide range of different ways, from the tangible impacts of efficiency, security, and occupancy analytics, to the unknown influence of robotics and augmented reality, on to a whole world of applications yet to be imagined.
“Increased success at work will come when organizations leverage humans, paired with AI, to drive an enhanced experience in the moments that matter most. It is those in-the-moment interactions where the new wave of opportunity arises,” Josh Feast, CEO and cofounder of Boston-based AI company Cogito. “This consideration requires an open mind, active optimism, and empathy to see the full potential of the human-AI relationship. I believe this is where human-aware technology can play a big role in shaping the future.”
AI wildly divides opinion, from doomsayers predicting that AI will overthrow humanity to those who see it as humanity’s savior in almost every aspect of society. In the workplace, one of the major topics of opposition to AI revolves around the invocative subject of jobs, where concerns are raised about the strain on those people replaced by AI and the impact of job losses on society as a whole. There is no doubt that AI will replace certain forms of human labor but, just as with automation, there are limits to what technology can do, and the evidence suggests that AI has a long way to go before solving certain key human characteristics.
“The question of whether AI will replace human workers assumes that AI and humans have the same qualities and abilities — but, in reality, they don’t,” David De Cremer, Provost’s Chair and Professor at NUS Business School, and Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and founder of the Renew Democracy Initiative, explained during Transform 2021. “AI-based machines are fast, more accurate, and consistently rational, but they aren’t intuitive, emotional, or culturally sensitive.”
If AI continues to develop in workplaces after COVID, we should expect a long period of AI augmenting the human experience. Where current smart tech allows us to monitor the building in real-time to create efficiencies and improve the occupant experience, AI will learn our individual and collective patterns to predict, preempt, and supercharge those smart processes. AI will combine your preferences with every aspect of your life to augment your existence, even learning to not augment you too much. In intelligent workplaces, AI can set up your meeting, make sure you’re on time and prepared, it can even highlight relevant topics and recognize missed social cues to ensure you are at your best. The productivity applications of intelligent workplaces are almost endless.
AI can certainly improve the workplace, the real test is user acceptance. This will depend on how it is introduced, on how well it works, and on trust, especially in regard to privacy. However, despite the bad press, some studies suggest office worker opinion on AI is relatively positive. A survey from SnapLogic polling 400 office workers in the US and the UK reported that 81% of employees say AI improves their job performance, and they want more. The complex and unknown nature of AI means no survey can truly gauge the future reaction of workers to the greater use of AI in the workplace, but they let us know that there’s hope. The strategy will have to be step-by-step and behind the scenes but AI will gradually replace smart to bring about intelligent workplaces.
“AI devices will increasingly displace older generations of edge devices, and AI powered analytics will displace some more traditional forms of software analytics being sold today. By 2025, we forecast that AI solutions will generate nearly $3.3 billion in revenues and represent 4.64% of overall BIOT revenues being generated,” predicts our latest AI report on commercial buildings. “In a world increasingly awash with data, AI can help to find “the signals in the noise” by identifying patterns, from which humans can draw actionable insights.”