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New research from Gartner claims that artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of virtual personal assistants and chatbots will be used by 70% of organisations to augment human performance by 2021.

There’s little doubt that AI is already beginning to establish a presence in the workplace, through the use of virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and other forms of chatbots, and this use is set to explode according to Gartner.

“Digital workplace leaders will proactively implement AI-based technologies such as VPAs or other forms of chatbots to support and augment employees’ tasks and productivity,” said Helen Poitevin, senior research director at Gartner.

Both VPAs and chatbots represent a value-added implementation of speech recognition. Using AI and machine learning (ML), VPAs can assist people or automate tasks. They listen to and observe behaviours, build and maintain data models, and predict and recommend actions.

In addition to VPAs, other types of virtual assistants have emerged, including virtual customer assistants (VCAs) and virtual employee assistants (VEAs).

When it comes to chatbots, they are now primarily used in the customer service area, but in the future they will likely be deployed elsewhere in the organisation. A Gartner spokesperson confirmed: “When chatbots are used as application interfaces, the way we work will change from ‘the user having to learn the interface’ to ‘the chatbot learning what the user wants’. This will greatly stimulate onboarding, training, productivity and efficiency inside the workplace”.

The reality is that customers and employees are increasingly expecting conversational interfaces to address help desk and customer service issues. For example, industries such as insurance and financial services are reported to have shown strong interest in piloting VEAs internally.

One area where AI will be increasingly prominent is in the realm of back-office bank employees, with 20% of operational bank staff projected to rely on AI to do non-routine work by 2020. Where tasks are complex and require manual intervention by human staff, AI technology can assist and augment the work of the staff by reducing errors and providing recommendations on the next best step.

Another area ripe for possible AI usage is Human Resources. For example, it may soon be a thing of the past for an HR manager to browse through the social media profiles of job applicants. There are already products that can carry out social media background checks, studying a candidate’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ pages, or pre-screen applications and tell the HR manager if the candidate is good, bad or average, depending on past recruitment patterns.

Other possible application areas include scheduling meetings and interviews for candidate engagement, employee development and employee services.

One key question continues however to surface: will these AI implementations be of detriment to the workforce? All indications suggest they won’t. The company claims that whilst on the one hand AI might destroy 1.8 million jobs, on the other it is expected to create a total of around 2.3 million jobs, and in the long term, even more jobs will be created and enhanced by the technology.

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