Microsoft has been at the forefront of researching and understanding how work is evolving, particularly in light of the pandemic’s impact on meetings and work patterns. Through its collaboration with OpenAI, Microsoft is now incorporating generative AI capabilities into workplace tools, such as Microsoft 365 Copilot, with the aim of transforming knowledge work. To gain insights into the implications for work and management, Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Modern Work & Business Applications, was interviewed. Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity:
- The evolution of knowledge work is still in its early stages. The past couple of decades focused on digitizing analog work processes, but now we are entering a new era where we can explore the true potential of being digitally transformed. The pandemic has accelerated this shift, leading us to realize that AI can be applied to tasks we previously considered fixed or unchangeable.
- With the rollout of AI tools, we will likely stop spending significant time on certain tasks in the next few years. AI can help us cut through the noise and identify the most important aspects of communication and coordination, allowing us to focus on essential work. Additionally, AI can spark creativity by enabling new patterns of human-machine collaboration. Meetings will also be transformed, becoming more than just points in time and instead serving as knowledge objects that can be queried and analyzed from various angles.
- AI can enhance worker creativity in two ways: by fleshing out ideas and by generating initial sparks of inspiration. Previously, people relied on external sources to generate ideas, but now AI can broaden the funnel of ideas and provide quicker turns, changing the early stages of the creative process.
- AI’s impact on meetings goes beyond transcription and summarization. It allows for specific and detailed analysis of human interactions, such as identifying sentiments, mentions of specific topics, group sentiment, dissenting opinions, and more. This provides a comprehensive understanding of meetings, both in real-time and retrospectively.
- The emergence of a ChatGPT-like tool for businesses will have the greatest impact on knowledge workers in the coming years. This tool will enable querying of a wide range of business-related questions, from sales data and current trends to predictions about product lines. The technology is rapidly advancing and will reshape job design, roles, and even the operating models of companies.
- It is important to recognize that AI tools may sometimes be wrong but still useful. The concept of “usefully wrong” acknowledges that AI reasoning can provide valuable insights and advance human thinking, even when the answers are not always accurate. This differs from the traditional approach of expecting perfect answers from calculators.
- The role of managers will undergo significant changes as work evolves. The traditional management models based on command and control or post-war industrial approaches will be disrupted. Managers will need to adapt to managing time and energy across distributed and flexible work environments. They will also need to recognize opportunities for augmenting human capacity with AI to achieve faster and higher-quality results.
- Executives should respond to the implications of AI by actively using the technology and experimenting with its capabilities. Each functional area should explore AI applications through pilot projects and evaluate its potential impact. It is crucial to understand the contours of AI’s state of the art and make informed decisions based on practical experiences.
- In the long term, AI is expected to lead to a net increase in the quality and quantity of jobs. History has shown that labor-saving devices have not resulted in overall job displacement but rather have led to economic growth and the creation of new employment opportunities. While there may be short-term displacement, the long-term outlook remains positive for economies and labor markets.