AI and the Future of Work

Posted on September 10, 2018 by

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The definition of AI can change depending on who you ask. For the purposes of this chat, we are referring to the use of computers and data aimed at creating intelligent machines that work and react like humans. As machines get better at certain roles, those roles become less emphasized in the definition and new roles or targets are produced. For now, the core targets are machine learning and programming computers for traits such as knowledge, reasoning, problem solving, planning, learning and to manipulate objects.

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AI is not new, but to listen to the chatter online you would think it has rapidly risen from science fiction and everyone is either an expert, a champion or the predictor of disaster and the end of the world. It is true that the advances in technology and the ever-increasing quantities of stored data have come together to allow AI application to be useful on a larger scale, however it is useful to understand that AI thinking and preparation has been built on decades of thinking, research and prior technological and process advances.

Automation, machine learning and AI are issuing the ‘third wave’ of the transformation of business processes. The first was standardized process, the second automated process and now the third, adaptive processes. This third wave builds upon the first two yet ushers in entirely new and innovative ways of doing business.

With change comes uncertainty and with uncertainty comes fear. It is clear many people are losing their jobs as automation, machine learning and AI take their place. The trend is set to accelerate as systems become more adept. However, it is also true that our children are learning for jobs that don’t exist yet in industries we have not even imagined.

As each new technology appears, especially ones that require us to take a leap, fundamentally changing how we do things, doom is predicted. 200 years ago agriculture was the biggest employer in the UK. Now it accounts for less than 1% of the workforce. The steam engine was regarded as a technology that would destroy jobs, yet it heralded in a new era of increased productivity and innovation, leading to more jobs.

It is clear that the way in which we work is changing. The very nature of work and the structure of business has to adapt. A conservative estimate suggests that 40% of Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist in 10 years due to digital disruption. According to Innosight, a growth strategy consulting firm, the 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027.

Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson, in their book Human + Machine, Re-imagining Work in the Age of AI, speak of AI providing humans with superpowers. With machine learning and automation taking over the boring and repetitive tasks, we are no longer trying to turn people into robots, but allowing humans the space and capacity to bring the human aspects of themselves to work.

“AI is freeing up time, creativity and human capital, essentially letting people work more like humans and less like robots” Quote from Man + Machine pg 20

We need to ask the simple question, what do humans do best and what do machines do best? They argue we need to re-imagine business processes where man and machine collaborate to attain ‘orders of magnitude’ increases in business performance.

But this is not in a vacuum. There are important considerations to do with ethics and responsible AI. There are ethical, moral and legal issues that need to be considered and implemented.

In Wednesday’s #SMCHAT, I would like to explore the idea of the future of work in the face of AI, automation and machine learning. I am looking forward to your thoughts and insights.

Q1: Do you feel AI will have an impact on the future of your work? In what way will it or won’t it?

Q2a: Do you agree that man plus machine will result in orders of magnitude of business performance? If yes, in what way? If not, why not?

Q2b: What are the human traits that cannot be replicated by AI? Is it time we re-evaluated the importance of ‘soft skills’?

Q3: What are the ‘new’ skills humans will need in the workplace for the future?

Q4: Right now we understand the importance of data. How does this become even more important?

Q5: Ethics, laws and checks and balances are vital in a new working environment involving AI. Who is responsible for ensuring these are in place?

Q6: How comfortable are you with a future where AI is considered to be a base requirement in order for businesses to remain relevant and competitive?

I’m looking forward to your thoughts. Please do post any questions or comments below before the chat if you want to contribute to this topic.

Alasdair

 

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