‘It is alien species’: What is the state of AI in the NKY workplace?

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Artificial intelligence is melding itself into the economy, creating radical changes in workplaces across the United States.

With these changes, employers have been forced to grapple with its effects on company policy, employee workflow and implementation within the workplace. AI has been described in hyperbolic or even apocalyptic terms, with some business futurists warning of consequences such as the inevitable obsolescence of certain careers.

“It is an alien species,” said Kevin Kirby, dean of Northern Kentucky University’s College of Informatics. “It is very strange and it will continue to surprise us as technology grows and evolves.”

AI was the topic at this week’s Eggs ‘n Issues, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s monthly panel series. KR Digital Agency CEO Kendra Ramirez and Global Business Solutions data analyst Theresa Guard joined Kirby for the conversation.

Together, the trio discussed the potential of AI in the workplace, implementing safeguards, common misconceptions, and when companies should start utilizing it.

How can AI help in the workplace?

AI will help improve and expedite many administrative duties in offices, Ramirez said. Whether it’s creating onboarding, training and development plans, or writing job descriptions, AI is coming to an office near you.

It can create web content like SEO-optimized blog posts and website landing pages in marketing. Computer programming is another area that was mentioned during the conversation. AI can help automate tedious and repetitive tasks like reviewing code, testing, and debugging.

“Computer programming — if you have them in your company, they’re already using it,” Guard said.

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How can companies implement safeguards regarding AI?

Organizations should be aware of AI’s potential to make mistakes, Guard said. She suggested that companies install safeguards to fact-check outputs from AI models.

“You need someone who is going to keep that AI system in check from the very beginning,” Guard said. “Because I feel like what it learns. It’s almost like a child like you’re teaching a child what your child learns when they’re young.”

Ramirez echoed Guard’s point, emphasizing that organizations must fact-check the responses they receive. This can especially be important in job fields like law.

“It can come across very highly competent, it can make up sources,” Ramirez said. “You definitely want to fact-check anything that comes out.”

When asked about the security of information shared with the generative AI programs, Guard said you can’t be sure that this information will be protected.

One of Ramirez’s suggestions was for businesses to write and implement their own AI policies.

“Making sure we have an AI policy but also educating because (business owners’) AI policy should be tied into your cybersecurity policy and your social media usage policy,” Ramirez said.

What are some misconceptions surrounding AI?

One lingering misconception surrounding AI is that it’s deeply humanlike, Kirby said.

He said it can feel like you’re having a back-and-forth discussion with a human when interfacing with generative programs like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Kirby related chatbots to mockingbirds trying to simulate human interaction. Due to this sensation, people tend to anthropomorphize AI chatbots.

“We are talking to one small front end of a giant, chaotic system,” Kirby said. “A monster with tentacles all across the world is constantly learning.”

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In regard to business, Guard spoke on the misconceptions about the cost of access to generative AI programs. In Guard’s opinion, very few companies have the financial resources at their disposal to create their own AI language model specifically for their company. Instead, Guard suggests company’s hire an employee who simply understands AI and the scope of its abilities.

“You need someone who can understand AI on a level that maybe we do as far as what it can do and how it was produced and then how to leverage that for your company,” Guard said.

On an organizational level, Ramirez said that companies shouldn’t focus on creating AI departments but instead empower all employees to be familiar with AI rather than consolidating it into a single department.

“It’s something that is going to touch us in a variety of ways,” Ramirez said. “That’s something to be really mindful of that you aren’t building an AI department. It’s how are you going to empower your team members and to have an AI first mindset.”

When should companies begin integrating AI into the workplace?

Guard said companies in all sectors need to start implementing AI into everyday business practices or risk being left behind.

“They’re predicting you either get on the AI train or you’re gonna be out of business in 10 years,” Guard said.

From Kirby’s perspective, companies shouldn’t look at AI as “adopting a new technology” but rather as an approaching reality that will seep into all professions like law, art and science.

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“Something very fundamental changed very fast,” Kirby said regarding the adoption of AI. “Over the past 18 months, there was sort of a acceleration.”

Northern Kentucky University is now offering a minor in Applied AI. Kirby advocated for high schools to integrate AI into their curriculum.

Ramirez said AI could impact up to 300 million jobs over the next five years. She likened it to the integration of digital technology into the workplace nearly two decades ago.

“It’s so important that we ready ourselves for the here and now and making sure that we’re bringing everyone along with us,” Ramirez said.

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