AI automation in the workplace is about to reach a major tipping point

AI automation in the workplace is about to reach a major tipping point

More U.S. companies are about to flip the “on” switch when it comes to automating tasks with artificial intelligence.

According to a survey of CFOs by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta, plans to use AI in the coming year are surging.

To be sure, companies have been automating work for generations, and the survey said that 60% of companies plan in the next 12 months to use software, equipment, and/or other technologies to automate tasks being done by employees. That’s little changed compared to the 59% who said their companies have automated tasks over the prior 12 months.

But when asked specifically about using AI, the answers indicated a key tipping point. Among the businesses that expect to automate in the next 12 months, about 54% said they will use AI tools to automate tasks being done by employees while 27% said they won’t.

That’s the nearly the reverse when compared with the 37% that used AI to automate in the prior 12 months and the 60% that didn’t.

“CFOs say their firms are tapping AI to automate a host of tasks, from paying suppliers, invoicing, procurement, financial reporting, and optimizing facilities utilization,” said Duke finance professor John Graham, academic director of the survey, in a statement. “This is on top of companies using ChatGPT to generate creative ideas and to draft job descriptions, contracts, marketing plans, and press releases.”

Large companies are leading the stampede into AI, with 76% saying they will use it to automate in the coming year. That’s up from the 55% that used AI during the previous year.

Still, small companies are getting onboard too, with 44% saying they will use AI to automate tasks in the next 12 months versus 32% that won’t and up from 29% that did in the prior 12 months.

The survey doesn’t necessarily suggest that companies will completely replace human workers with AI, considering that employees perform multiple tasks for their jobs.

But it does suggest that AI skills will be increasingly important in the workplace, perhaps sooner than people realize.

LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman told CNN that in three to five years, humans will likely have an “agent copilot” that helps them with tasks.

“It’s job transformation. Human jobs will be replaced—but will be replaced by other humans using AI,” he added. “The whole ideas is to be the human who is using AI, to learn it, to do it, to make it happen.”

But over the longer term, AI’s impact on the labor market could be more significant.

Earlier this year, venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee reaffirmed his prediction from 2017, when he said AI would replace 50% of human jobs in the following decade.

At the Fortune Innovation forum in Hong Kong in March, Fortune editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell asked him if the timeline still holds.

He replied, “It’s actually uncannily accurate. People have criticized me for being too aggressive in 2017, 2018, 2019, and I was a little nervous at the time. But when gen AI came out, I think everybody’s on the bandwagon and believing that is the correct pace.”

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