How to Make AI Work for You, at Work

11 minute read

Before last year, Jana Soldicic’s understanding of artificial intelligence was mostly limited to what she’d read on the pages of science fiction novels. But in the fall, after getting the chance to use the technology in real life as she played around with the generative AI tools ChatGPT and DALL-E, she got more curious.

“I really wanted to know what was behind it. I knew it couldn’t be magic,” Soldicic said. 

She searched online and found Elements of AI, a self-paced, online course created by MinnaLearn and The University of Helsinki that provides an introduction to artificial intelligence designed for people without a background in technology, and was surprised by how much she enjoyed the course.

“I got a little bit addicted to it,” she says. “It gave me a basic understanding of what AI is now and what it could be.” 

The experience gave her a deeper understanding of how artificial intelligence actually operated—far beyond what she might have learned from messing around with the publicly available programs. Now, she’s bringing that knowledge to her work as an event planner. “I now have more of an understanding what it could do for me, my work, [and] my colleagues, other than just creating texts or pictures.”

Soldicic, who is based in Hamburg, Germany, uses AI text-to-image generators like DALL-E to bring adverts and flyers to life with designs that it might have previously been impossible for her to create on her own. “We wanted little squirrels on a tandem bike for one event [flyer], and you could never find such a picture in real life. I put in ‘two squirrels on the tandem bike’ [on DALL-E] and there were so many different and cool results. I didn't have to find somebody to realize my idea, I could just do it at home.” 

Read More: Millions of Americans Have Lost Jobs in the Pandemic—And Robots and AI Are Replacing Them Faster Than Ever

Artificial intelligence is expected to drastically change the way most of us work, but it’s a shift many are unprepared for. Amid all the chatter around AI, there is increasing concern about the threat it may pose to workers, ranging from screenwriters and background actors to lawyers. A recent Goldman Sachs report found that as many as 300 million jobs around the world could be affected by AI and automation, but a Boston Consulting Group survey found that adoption has so far been largely limited to the C-suite. According to the June survey, 80% of executives said they used generative AI regularly, while only 20% of frontline employees reported the same. Meanwhile, a study earlier this year by human resources analytics firm Revelio Labs found that the jobs most threatened by AI are largely held by women.

Read More: The Writers Strike Is Taking a Stand on AI

In the face of this change, people like Soldicic are trying to skill up in AI and bring what they learn to the workplace—and many courses are emerging to help them do it. 

“It's clear that this is one of those moments where people are really trying to get a handle on what's happening,” says Dan Brodnitz Global Head of Strategy at LinkedIn Learning. “This is about the opportunity for AI to improve our jobs and to augment our professional lives. To navigate that, people are going to and already [are] super motivated to invest in themselves.” 

AI and the future of work

Experts say AI will likely transform the workplace, though it is developing so rapidly that we may not know all the ways it could change how we will be working in the future. A recent survey by McKinsey estimated that generative AI tools could theoretically automate work that takes as much as 70% of an employee's time and that AI could replace half of workers' daily work activities by 2045– around a decade earlier than their previous estimates. 

The shift stands to impact knowledge-based workers, in jobs that have traditionally had higher wages and educational requirements, according to McKinsey. However, experts say the shift will likely mean people will be required to use tools such as generative AI in the same way we use search engines and word processors. “AI is not just about automating jobs and replacing people,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI. By far the biggest benefits are having AI work with humans and help them be more productive.” 

Read More: The AI Job That Pays Up to $335K—and You Don't Need a Computer Engineering Background

Brynjolfsson, along with researchers Danielle Li, and Lindsey Raymond, authored a study in which generative AI was used by over 5,000 customer support agents at a call center, and found that AI tools boosted workers productivity, reduced attrition, and were especially helpful for early-career workers. 

Through machine learning, the generative AI systems were able to use pattern recognition to identify successes and failures in customer service approaches. “It listened in on a whole bunch of transcripts and calls, and could see the patterns that turned out well the ones that didn't turn out well,” says Brynjolfsson. “It captured that tacit knowledge and passed it on to the less experienced workers.”

Brynjolfsson said the AI system was able to recommend specific features to solve a customer’s problems, or a tone of voice or phrasing that might work better. “Maybe no human had ever written down those rules before but the AI system, by looking at literally millions of transcripts, was able to pick up on these patterns.”

AI tools are likely going to impact tasks that are “routine, predictable, or standardized,” according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology and author of I, Human: AI, Automation, and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Unique. Though it might be tempting to brush off the sudden rise of AI tools as just a fad, Chamorro-Premuzic says it’s important to become as familiar as possible with the tools, as they are likely to become ubiquitous. “These are tools that everybody will use, and if you're the only person not even trying it out or not using it, you might actually suffer,” he says, comparing such resistance to deciding not to use Google’s search engine.

Read More: The AI Arms Race Is Changing Everything

And even if employers don’t expect workers to be experts in AI now, being comfortable with AI tools and how they operate could potentially provide a leg up as tools begin to become more commonplace in the workplace. “When employers know that an employee or an applicant has experience with AI, that could potentially be more appealing to them, even if they're not a tech company,” says Amber Clayton, senior director of knowledge center operations at the Society for Human Resource Management. “I think many employers are looking at this right now as an opportunity to be more efficient.”

Training up on AI

Ville Valtonen, MinnaLearn’s CEO and co-founder, believes truly understanding AI is only possible by going  back to the basics. MinnaLearn’s Elements of AI course teaches students the patterns and probabilities that make artificial intelligence what it is, so they have the confidence to adapt alongside the technology. “The AI field moves so fast. There are hundreds of tools coming daily. So we think it's really useful that people learn the high level things first, and then they can apply that in the world. That’s something you can use for much longer than a specific tool.” 

The course is free and requires no advanced math or programing experience. “We wanted to create a course for that 99% of people who can’t code and still wanted to understand how AI was being used in the world around them,” says Valtonen. More than one million people from 170 countries have signed up to take MinnaLearn’s online Elements of AI course. The company also offers a paid version of the program tailored towards businesses and it plans to launch a new chapter on generative AI this summer. 

Read More: Column: AI Is Not an Arms Race

There are also more tailored courses for workers and jobseekers looking to learn specific skills. Learners looking to understand the tools that might prove useful in particular roles or sectors could turn to LinkedIn Learning—LinkedIn’s educational arm— for example. It offers more than 100 courses covering artificial intelligence, on both the theoretical and practical fronts. These range from “Introduction to Prompt Engineering for Generative AI” to “Artificial Intelligence for Business Leaders.” Pricing for an individual LinkedIn Learning subscription begins at $19.99 per month, with the option to pay for individual courses

The courses are broken down into bite-sized chapters, many of which come in at under five minutes. “We've designed it so you can use the time you have available to learn what you need to learn,” Brodnitz says. “It's all designed to give people a lot of control.” Alphabet also offers a range of courses through the Google Cloud Skills Boost platform.

Art Munin decided to take some courses on AI after his employer, a tech company that helps colleges and universities with enrollment management, began deploying an AI tool of its own. “After learning about our AI tool, I was not satisfied just trusting that it worked. I wanted to know how it worked,” he told TIME in an email. 

Munin has taken several LinkedIn Learning courses, including “Deep Learning: Getting Started” and “Applied Machine Learning: Foundations.” As conversations around artificial intelligence and its use cases begin to enter public conversation, he says the course has allowed him to better discern fact from fiction when it comes to the impacts and concerns around AI. “There is a gigantic difference between AI being used in military missile defense, for example, and AI supporting the recruitment of college students. These courses have helped me with a language and knowledge base to navigate these complex conversations and advocate for the reasonable use of AI in my field of work.” 

How to make AI work for you

While there has been some legitimate concern about AI coming for many of our jobs, there are ways workers can use AI to help them improve at their jobs. Consider the ways AI systems might impact your specific field, and how it can help make your workflow more efficient, suggests Amanda Johnstone, CEO of the technology research and development lab, Transhuman. For example, when trying to brainstorm creative lab experiments that meet specific educational standards, a teacher can ask ChatGPT to help, rather than generating ideas on their own, she says.

It can even be as simple as asking the tool to  draft an email or social media post. “Try not to make it too technical,” Johnstone says. “You can have AI create 50 social media posts for you. And then spend half a day timing them to post [rather than] the next three months or you can have artificial intelligence draft the next ten newsletters for you.”

Johnstone advises against approaching the prompt like a Google search. Instead, be specific in how you prompt the tool. “When you're prompting AI or working with AI, you need to think ‘what do I really want the end result to be?’; Do I want it to create a newsletter for our target audience bringing in real time data?’ Think about the end outcome and reverse engineer,” she says.

For those interested in experimenting with generative AI tools, experts say that a great first step is to simply take the time to play around with them—especially while there are versions of platforms like ChatGPT that are free to access. “Have fun with it, test it in your own way, thinking about the problems that you might have,” Chamorro-Premuzic says. “It's definitely trial and error.”

Read More: The Workers Behind AI Rarely See Its Rewards. This Indian Startup Wants to Fix That

For some learners,  the benefits of using AI at work has been a pleasant surprise. Damian Wolfgram, a California-based product manager who took Minnalearn’s Elements of AI course, says that outsourcing more mundane tasks like agenda-setting or double-checking a draft’s grammar has drastically increased his productivity. “I'm able to get 80% of whatever that task is done in just 20% of the time,” he says. “I'm the benefactor of that, because it frees up my bandwidth to do other things.”

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Simmone Shah at