The Pros and Cons of Using Digital Assistants

The pros and cons of large language models in the workplace hammer home the need to find a balance between digital employees and the living, breathing ones.

Maxime Vermeir, Senior Director of AI Strategy

January 19, 2024

4 Min Read
two tiny chatbots looking psyched
charles taylor via Adobe Stock

The ongoing debate about artificial intelligence taking jobs is not going away anytime soon. The introduction of large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT has demonstrated capabilities akin to developers, copywriters, and many professions in between.  

In fact, Goldman Sachs estimates that generative AI could digitally transform the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs to intelligent automation, further accelerating fears of major disruption and resistance to change among workers.  

At the same time, recent research revealed that many employees are already embracing intelligent automation with 60% of IT leaders attributing AI to an increase in higher value work, 62% reporting happier staff, and 59% saying employees are more innovative.

So, could the fears of displacement by LLMs be unfounded, and should we be welcoming our new digital coworkers with open arms?  

Let's look at the pros and cons of digital assistants -- defined as autonomous, AI-driven software built to augment humans and robotic process automation (RPA) systems for specific tasks and purposes -- and whether they are better co-workers than humans. 

Pro: They are easier to fine-tune. It can take months to train a new staff member to get them up to speed with how the company operates and familiarize them with internal policies and processes. Not only is it cumbersome for the people to train them, but it takes staff away from their regular duties, often causing friction and delays with the workload.

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A digital worker, on the other hand, can be built for the specific context of the job such as invoice processing or reviewing healthcare referrals so it can hit the ground running. It’s a perfect newcomer because it can quickly assimilate vast amounts of information without needing any breaks to increase focus or relieve stress. Better still, your new co-worker will continue to teach themselves on the job, thanks to machine learning capabilities.  

Con: You can’t have the new AI on the block make coffee or run errands, and they won’t improve the diversity of the team. The benefits of a diverse team are widely known, such as better problem solving, creativity, and innovation through a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. In fact, according to research by McKinsey, diverse companies are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability.  

Pro: They are versatile. Specific tasks and responsibilities of digital employees can vary based on the objectives set by the manager. Typical digital employees can support customer inquiries, utilize corporate knowledge bases and training materials, and navigate enterprise information systems such as help desk, CRM, and ERP databases that are vital for their duties.

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They can also undertake intellectual tasks such as data analysis and problem-solving and adhere to company policies and procedures, including privacy and confidentiality. For humans, the great benefit is handing over boring or repetitive tasks such as data entry or chasing elusive information. A recent survey showed that a quarter of employees waste eight hours a week -- that’s a whole day -- searching for information to serve customers, with business-critical data often locked within digitized documents including PDFs, Excel sheets, emails, images, text messages and chatbot conversations.  

Con: While digital assistants can adapt with machine learning, humans are far more equipped to effectively navigate difficult circumstances using soft skills such as empathy, compassion, and other emotional intelligence to situations. An automated agent simply doesn’t have the same level of creativity and critical thinking skills as the human brain -- yet.  

Pro: They’re faster and rarely make mistakes. With reduced manual data entry, the likelihood of errors and data discrepancies are minimized. For example, invoice processing times can be reduced by 90% using digital assistants. Purpose-built AI models can also help enforce compliance with company policies, vendor agreements and regulatory requirements, meaning fewer breaches and increased security.  

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Your friendly intelligent agent is also available 24/7 to support any flexible working arrangements for a better work-life balance.

They’re also happy to take on extra workloads, which can help you become more productive and save costs for the company. Also, there’s less chance of personality clashes, which are the cause of 50% workplace conflict according to recent research. Many AI models can generate ideas and recommend changes in processes for greater efficiency, but you won’t need to worry about them being offended if you turn down their proposals. 

Con: Interpersonal relationships are seen as a huge part of any successful working environment. Having that sense of camaraderie, empathy and friendship at work goes a long way for enhancing mental health. While AI can’t currently simulate complex human personalities, it can free up more time for relationship-building among humans by reducing their workloads. 

Finding the Balance: Augmenting Humans with Digital Assistants 

There are many advantages to bringing digital assistants into the workplace, especially with businesses being under pressure to do accomplish more at faster speeds while using fewer skilled resources.  

However, there is no replacing humans for emotional support, motivation and tasks that require empathy and complex communication.

Critical thinking and adaptability can only go so far when instilled through programming and AI. I believe we need to utilize the skills and unique strengths of both humans and digital assistants to work together in harmony for a balanced and more productive, efficient work environment. 

About the Author(s)

Maxime Vermeir

Senior Director of AI Strategy, ABBYY

Maxime Vermeir is Senior Director of AI Strategy at intelligent automation company ABBYY. With a decade of experience in product and tech, Maxime is passionate about driving higher customer value with emerging technologies across various industries. His expertise from the forefront of artificial intelligence enables powerful business solutions and transformation initiatives through large language models (LLMs) and other advanced applications of AI. Maxime is a trusted advisor and thought leader in his field. His mission is to help customers and partners achieve their digital transformation goals and unlock new opportunities with AI.

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