Quill Content: Humans in the Loop — leveraging employees’ skill sets with the power of AI

Quill is the leading Primary Content production platform for major global eCommerce businesses. As the world’s only Primary Content specialist, they are defining a completely new model for high-volume, high-quality, multi-language content production, based on the powerful combination of technology and talent.

In this article, Quill founder and CEO Ed Bussey talks to us about artificial intelligence and machine learning — and what both mean for human creativity in the digital era.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning — two of the technological developments driving the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ — are causing an undeniable stir in the business world and beyond. In fact, the artificial intelligence market is expected to hit $190 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 36.62%.

But while machine learning may dominate headlines, will it succeed human capital as a company’s most valued resource? While this seems unlikely, AI will prove instrumental in unlocking human potential. AI has the power to not only change the shape of the modern workforce, but to do so for the better, potentially making teams happier and more productive.

As we move into the third decade of the 21st century, it is clear that forward-thinking employers must consider how best to leverage the power of automation to both improve efficiency and support their staff. Here are three steps businesses should consider taking to prepare their workforces for the AI-powered world of the future.

1. Enhance innovation by eliminating labour-intensive, formulaic tasks

AI has the potential to transform business operations, but it has one key limitation: it’s not human. To perform well, machine learning and AI systems require a very specific problem or challenge, with desired outputs bound to clearly defined parameters. Put simply, machines can’t yet ‘think outside the box’, and thus cannot adequately replicate complex human decision-making.

What they can do, however, is handle ‘grunt work’ — the repetitive, formulaic tasks that stultify creativity and innovation. By assigning to machines those processes which are AI-friendly, businesses free up their employees to concentrate on more important, nuanced problems.

This pragmatic approach to AI isn’t just the sensible option; it’s what employees want, too. According to a large-scale survey from the Workforce Institute, 64% of employees would welcome AI if it automated time-consuming internal processes, simplified their jobs and helped balance their workload. The message is clear: don’t replace your workers with AI, but rather use it to empower them, freeing up their attention for higher value tasks.

Here at Quill, we take what we call a ‘humans in the loop’ approach to AI. Our Quill Cloud platform, an efficiency-driving content production tool, incorporates machine learning-based functions that improve efficiency on multi-language content projects — including brand glossaries, translation memory and machine translation. These functions enable the system to automatically suggest keywords and phrases to our writers as they work on projects. As well as streamlining the copywriting process, these actions allow our creatives to concentrate on more nuanced aspects — for example, achieving an evocative and brand-compliant tone of voice.

2. Retrain and reskill teams to meet changes in the workplace

Over recent years, we have seen growing rhetoric on the subject of job losses due to AI. Although research shows that some roles will be made defunct by the advent of automation, the numbers are perhaps less frightening than some scaremongers might have us believe. A more considered report by the World Economic Forum predicts 7.1 million job losses globally, consisting mostly of routine white collar office roles such as administration — a number that will be offset, to some extent, by the two million new roles generated in burgeoning technological fields.

Still, while predictions of job loss doom may not be wholly justified, the job market is already changing. Skills desirable in a candidate today will not be the same in five years’ time. In this fast-evolving work environment, employers must now ask themselves how they can help their staff upskill, develop and prepare, fostering an ethos of lifelong learning.

Interestingly, this doesn’t mean teaching all your employees to code. The same WEF report predicts:

“Overall, social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others — will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. Content skills (which include ICT literacy and active learning), cognitive abilities (such as creativity and mathematical reasoning) and process skills (such as active listening and critical thinking) will be a growing part of the core skills requirements for many industries.”

Prepare your employees for the greater application of AI by developing their leadership, management, strategic and creativity-enhancing skills. This process will not only help them better navigate future changes in responsibilities, but also future-proof your business.

3. Use AI to improve employee happiness

AI is already emerging all around us. Most home-based smart systems employ deep learning — a subset of machine learning — to progressively develop their service. With so many consumers now accustomed to using smart assistant devices in their living rooms — from Google Home to Amazon’s range of Alexa-powered devices — it’s only a matter of time before such technology will be used to make the workplace a more comfortable place to be.

Many of the AI systems currently being developed for the workplace are environment-focused. Orion Labs’ Panic Bot, developed by former first responders, claims to use machine learning to boost employee safety; the app alerts relevant personnel when an alarm is raised via company radio or chat. Meanwhile, the AI-powered Ginger.io markets itself as a productivity-boosting wellness tool which “provides [employees] with a simple, affordable and discreet way to get emotional support”.

But while such improvements are welcome, I believe that AI has the potential to grant deeper, more lasting benefits. Some talent management AIs, for example, are already improving HR processes by examining candidate selection data without the influence of in-group, racial or gender bias. A good example is Percolata, a retail-aimed AI which assigns rotas based on individual and team performance rather than managers’ preferences. The result of this movement could be — fingers crossed — a bias-free workplace, with increased fairness of opportunity and diversity.

For us at Quill, this particular application represents the next big step forward in our development of the Quill Cloud. Our platform employs automated workflows to simultaneously manage thousands of tasks, assigning them to our network of 3000 freelance content creators around the world — a process currently overseen by our Network managers. In the next iteration of our platform, we anticipate full automation of this selection process, allowing writers to be automatically matched with tasks according to unbiased metrics relating to past experience and performance. This will in turn release our Network managers to focus more on the higher value programmes relating to the engagement, training and development of a global network of human talent.

Despite the clear potential benefits of AI, three in five organisations have yet to discuss the potential impact of automation on their business with their employees. As a staunch advocate of organisational transparency, I believe that companies should be communicating honestly with their employees about their future plans for this burgeoning technology. Via this kind of two-way conversation, employers can begin the essential process of preparing their company — and staff — for the oncoming AI revolution.