Machine Work: Three Ways Artificial Intelligence is Impacting Business Productivity

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE

“Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence.” — Ginny Rometty, American business executive

Artificial intelligence (AI) gets a bad rap in pop culture. For every fictional Jarvis or David, there are a half-dozen Skynets or Ultrons. In the real world, most workers believe artificial intelligence is something we’re still waiting on. But it’s already off and running in corporations around the world, though not necessarily in forms people tend to think of when they hear the term “artificial intelligence.” Some visionary authors call what we have “artificial stupids,” but whatever you call them, they can get the job done.

The job, in this case, is making human workers more productive by handing the reins for repetitive, dull tasks to silicon coworkers. I’m not talking about robots, and no one intends these AIs to take over human jobs. These AIs consist of increasingly sophisticated software boost personal productivity at work, based primarily on machine learning culled from previous data.

Let’s look at a few ways AI has already begun to help out:

  1. Forecasting. By assessing past data from your business or department, and testing hundreds or thousands of models using your data, AIs can help forecast the outcomes of any potential decision or approach. It can also consider innovation, potential disruptions, or supply-and-demand changes based on existing or potential conditions. This may sound more useful to manufacturers of widgets than to classic white-collar offices, but keep in mind that we still manufacture our own kinds of products for our end-users, whether they be white papers or computer programs. Besides, standard manufacturing firms also have white-collar offices to handle the technology used in production and make predictions for next year, quarter, and decade. Given the proper constraints, an AI can learn from its past errors, optimize its data based on what it’s learned, and move forward based on its new conclusions — 24/7. It can also use this information to develop algorithms to predict when maintenance and upgrades to its own system are needed.
  1. Security. These days, the only way to avoid data theft is to use computers completely cut off from the World Wide Web. That just doesn’t cut it if your business model requires an online presence. Even if it doesn’t, most white-collar businesses need dedicated access to the internet so workers can more easily do their jobs and communicate with one another. Many businesses have some level of human security to protect their real assets and people, but increasingly, they also require a high level of cybersecurity to protect data, intellectual property, and other intangible assets. AIs provide an unsleeping eye to safeguard all these: by learning to recognize cyber-attacks based on algorithms developed after previous attacks, by closely monitoring input from outside, and by shutting down access to sensitive files/systems as necessary. They can even help backtrack the attackers to their source, to block further attacks. While script kiddies and other hackers remain a serious concern, with the proper AI cybersecurity, they aren’t as worrisome as they once were. 
  1. Research and Personal Assistants. Digital assistants aren’t exactly new, but as AI has evolved in recent years, they’ve become much easier to use and more reliable. Now, with a few instructions, they can handle your email, keep your calendar in hand, and streamline other processes with simple suggestions. This are straightforward tasks evolved from Clippy and Microsoft Bob of the pre-Y2K era (look ’em up). But the most useful thing about these assistants is that they can sift through enormous masses of data with ease, allowing you to do the kind of research that might not have been possible a decade ago. Before search engines alone, research was a much more onerous task, which could require months of library work and, in some cases, prohibitive levels of travel.

Being pure software, AIs not only don’t need time off, but they also can process basic data much faster than anything human. As a result, they can relieve us of a great deal of tedium and allow us to discover connections that help us develop or refine products and continue evolving our technology. The examples here are just a few ways AI can increase efficiency, and thus productivity, in the modern business world; soon we’ll be seeing many others.

© 2022 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is known as The Productivity Pro®. She is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on personal productivity. For 30 years, she has given keynote speeches and workshops on increasing workplace productivity in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including the bestselling What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do. She is a past president of the National Speakers Association and a member of the exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame. To book Laura speak at an upcoming meeting or event, contact her at