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Dustin Moskovitz

Asana CEO: ‘The way we work right now will soon look vestigial. Here’s how A.I. will make work more human’

(Credit: Courtesy of Dustin Moskovitz)

As A.I. twists further into the public consciousness, we’re starting to see dystopian stories about the future of work, predicting a kind of final victory for the Machiavellian forces of capitalism.

As the most notable example, science-fiction author Ted Chiang recently wondered if there is “a way for A.I. to do something other than sharpen the knife blade of capitalism?” According to Insider, employees at JPMorgan may already be suffering under that dynamic due to the company’s powerful employee monitoring tools.

These stories paint a bleak picture, raising many concerns I share myself, and indeed my own worries with A.I. go well beyond the potential impact to work. But I believe we’ll overcome them, however, and want to take a moment to consider a world where people are thriving in their jobs because of A.I., not in spite of it.

Instead of picturing A.I. controlling every moment of your focus, imagine it helping you maximize your moments of flow. Software can help you screen notifications, for example, by intelligently analyzing whether an incoming alert is both important and urgent enough to interrupt your focus. It can organically synchronize your moments of collaboration with others, evolving us past today’s rigid system of recurring meetings and calendar blocks that fracture your days. Perhaps most importantly, it can encourage you to take breaks, even vacations, when you’ve been working too long (thus improving impact over longer cycles, in addition to well-being).

A grim version of the future envisages humans as interchangeable with our software counterparts, fellow cogs in the machine. In reality, we’re at our best when we’re engaged in tasks that are distinctly human, the ones that allow us to infuse our creativity, empathy, and judgment into them. A.I. can enable our days to be filled with these, when we leverage its comparative advantage to do more of the “work about work” that slows us down, like compiling and sharing status updates.

The internet helped make the world feel smaller and more familiar, and similarly, A.I. can jump-start employees’ onboarding and institutional knowledge, by becoming a personal tutor that brings every individual up to speed with expert patience and grace. Unfamiliar acronyms, custom Slack emojis, and project code names–all the tiny nuances that make up the connective tissue of culture–can be alienating to those unfamiliar. A.I. can decode company or team culture, replacing the uneasiness that accompanies transitions with a quickly achieved sense of belonging, and making it easy to start contributing to the team’s goals. Reducing this friction is empowering for individuals, making it easy to leave managers that don’t treat them well.

Finally, stories born from paranoia teach you to see A.I. as the ultimate surveillance tool, watching your every eye moment and jiggle of your mouse. But what if it’s used instead to catch you doing things well, and to foster trust between managers and employees?

With the ability to compile reports of your accomplishments–or even assess their quality–A.I. can help managers better appreciate the output of their employees, rather than relying on quantified inputs, like time spent at your desk. It can watch out for deadlines and critical paths, automatically steering you toward the work that’s most urgent. And if you do fall behind on deadlines, A.I. can let your manager know–they don’t have to poke their nose in all the time just to catch the one time you fell behind. With A.I. helping everyone focus their attention to match intentions as they do their work, managers can instead spend their time investing in ways to support their team and grow individuals.

The way we work right now will soon look vestigial, a kind of social scaffolding in our journey to build something better. We know that A.I. will transform the future of work. Will the future edifices of our labor be austere, brutalist towers that callously process resources? Or will they be beautiful, intricate monuments to growth and thriving?

We have agency in how this future unfolds, but we can only manifest something wonderful if we also create positive visions for what’s possible. A world with more breakthroughs, bigger ideas, better execution, and faster progress. A world full of happy individuals, living their best lives at work.

When my co-founder and I started Asana, we were fueled by the power of teams. When the world’s teams work together, we can do great things–the kind of things that contribute to a better life for people and planet.

Customers should demand a positive version of the future. Technologists can build it. A.I. and humans can co-create that future. We can realize our full collective potential, together.

Dustin Moskovitz is the co-founder and CEO of Asana.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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