AI in the Workplace – The Modern Washing Machine

6 March 2024 by
5 minutes read
AI in the Workplace – The Modern Washing Machine

Many will remember 2023 as the year of AI. With revolutionary new technologies that can summarise millions of data points, generate lifelike “deepfake” clips of political leaders, and write legal briefs at the press of a few buttons, the world has been torn between total awe of what exists now and wonder at what the future could bring.

And while the recent Glaswegian Willy Wonka experience may haunt the nightmares of marketing execs everywhere (yes, all the advertisements and scripts were generated using AI, including the Guillermo del Toro-esque character, “The Unknown”), AI has largely pervaded into working life seamlessly and extensively. 

As AI expanded, we at Whycatcher took particular interest in its capabilities. We also began looking at public sentiments, and found responses ranging from eagerness at AI’s potential to panic over prospective redundancies. It’s no surprise that with the automation of so much data analysis has come the widespread fear of job loss.  

So, how should we feel? Excited? Scared? 

While we at Whycatcher can’t quite predict the future (I know, we’re working on it), we can look to the past for insights. And, in this research, we found an interesting story of hope, innovation, and laundry that may shed some light on how we see AI impacting our working future. 

From the washing machine to Whycatcher 

Long before AI, the modern computer, or even pre-packaged sliced bread, the 1910s saw a massive boom in home appliance technologies with the inventions of the washing machine, dishwasher, and refrigerator. These appliances drastically changed the lives of an entire class of people – primarily women – that had previously spent much of their day labouring over home maintenance. Without the need to commit hours to laborious home tasks, these women ended up with many hours left in the day to spare (according to one study, an increase of 40 extra hours per week from 1900 to 1975).  

Around this same era, the corporate demand for another recent invention – electric typewriters – hit a boom. With the demand in typewriters came the demand for typists, a position that would quickly become populated by the very same women who had just recently seen hours of their days freed up by automated home appliances. Throughout the 20th century, women gained a foothold in the paid workforce through this newly created position, earning a personal income for the first times in their lives.  

Of course, we don’t have many typists around today – the invention of computers and the common development of typing skills made the profession largely obsolete. But as the position of typist became obsolete, the women occupying that position did not. Rather, they dispersed across the workforce, including into more highly skilled positions and positions of leadership that had previously been entirely male dominated.  

From the washing machine to the CEO, these women were never without a job – their jobs merely expanded from the perimeter of the home to the boundlessness of the paid (and unpaid) workforce. Women who may have previously been bound to their homes are now out inventing our most innovative technologies – including AI. And much of it may be thanks to the humble washing machine. 

AI – it’s not a washing machine  

Of course, AI is not just replacing the tedious parts of our day like washing laundry or scrubbing plates. AI has the capability to analyse large quantities of data and recognise complex patterns, discern relevant passages, and generate entirely novel outputs, including in text, imagery, audio, and video. In our own office, AI has been picked up to save time analysing hours of footage, hundreds of pages of text, and to generate suggested structures for written outputs. But AI has yet to send anyone home early or fill a vacant position.  

In an internal survey on our current uses of AI, some of our colleagues told us how AI enhances their working lives. Examples include: 

It helps you organise thoughts so is especially helpful at the beginning of a task… overcoming writer’s block‘ 

Getting a feel for market trends

Summarising the key findings from interviews and…sense checking our analysis‘ 

AI is being used in a myriad of ways across our office, and our industry. And yet, one sentiment seems to be pervasive across users, summarised well by one respondent: 

AI is such a great start point

Thus far, AI has presented itself as another tool that can cut down on time intensive activities or create a jumping off point for more creative human output. It’s a fantastic tool, and it’s changed the shape of the working lives of many of its early adopters – and, to us, it’s changed it for the better. But there are still limitations on AI that will be extremely difficult for it to overcome – chiefly, an ability to comprehend and mimic the human element.  

In our industry alone, AI cannot replace the empathy a researcher forms with their participants, or the ability to spot an emotional thread woven through brand strategy. AI can’t replace the human piece of us – but it can free us up to spend more time on the creative and interesting parts of our jobs and give us the inspiration to discover new ways of thinking and innovating. The real beauty of AI may be that it enables us to come at our work fully human.

Doing my laundry 

We can’t predict the future – that’s one thing we have in common with AI. But we can look at the past and learn lessons from the innovations and milestones that have shaped our present. 

It was the women who bought washing machines who were the ones with time to join the workforce. I’m happy leaving hours of sifting through data, overcoming stubborn writers block, and all my other laundry to AI – there’s plenty more fulfilling things to spend my time on. 


We love AI at Whycatcher, and obviously we’ve built our own AI solution for digital research. Do get in touch to find out how Whycatcher AI can help you 🤖

Written by

Cady works in the research and marketing teams at Whycatcher. She moved to the UK from her home in Brooklyn, NY in 2017, and completed her BA in English and Philosophy from The University of St Andrews in 2021.

Cady is an avid outdoorsman in her free time, and has backpacked over 300 miles of the New England wilderness. She can also wiggle her ears.