Welcome to the age of the mixed workforce, where intelligent machines and humans combine to accelerate business success.
In short, now that we have more and more efficient robots and artificial intelligence (AI) – capable of taking on tasks that were previously the exclusive domain of humans – it’s easier than ever for organizations to operate intelligent machines. But that leaves employers with major questions to answer: how do you strike the right balance between smart machines and human intelligence? What roles should machines be given? And what roles are best suited for humans?
The first step: Understand what machines can do
Especially in traditional businesses, business leaders are often unaware of the wide range of tasks that today’s AIs and intelligent robots can take on. (In fact, I spend a lot of time training executives in this area.) This knowledge is key to finding the right balance of humans and machines in your organization.
Some of the things that AIs and AI-enabled robots can do are pretty mind-boggling. For example, AIs can now read, write, see, speak and even understand emotions. While that sounds impressive, AIs, for the most part, take some type of input (be it visual data, written data, or whatever) and generate a particular output, as programmed. Once you understand this basic I/O idea, it’s possible to automate all sorts of tasks that follow this same pattern, such as scanning security videos for suspicious behavior, content moderation online, responding to simple customer requests, data entry and bookkeeping. records, and so on.
As Stanford Professor Andrew NG the dish, “If a typical person can perform a mental task with less than a second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI now or in the near future.” In other words, human jobs that rely on some sort of input-output scenario are very likely to be automated in the future.
So what will happen to human workers?
In light of this wave of incoming automation, human work will be affected in three main ways:
· Displacement of human jobs. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020, 85 million jobs could be eliminated by automation by 2025 – a truly staggering figure. Naturally, this creates a lot of fear around automation. But while many jobs will be displaced, it is important to note that more jobs will be increased or created due to the adoption of technology. Which brings us to…
· Increase in human jobs. Many jobs here will be changed in one way or another by automation. According to the WEF, by 2025 the time spent on common work tasks by humans and machines will be equal. This means that employers must find the perfect balance between the tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines. In other words, we need to make sure that the work given to machines is best suited to machines, and the work given to humans is best suited to humans (so that humans don’t end up feeling like machines ).
· Added new human professions. Finally, new jobs will appear that did not exist before. While the WEF estimates that 85 million jobs could be displaced, it also estimates that 97 million new roles could emerge – roles better suited to the new division of labor between humans and machines. These new human roles will likely rely on a slightly different set of skills and abilities, compared to the skills that have traditionally been prioritized in the past.
All of this means that employers have a responsibility to equip their workforce with the skills needed to fourth industrial revolution. What skills are we talking about? Well, with machines taking over more of the easily automated input-output work, it’s the inherently human skills that will become increasingly valuable in the workplace. Things like empathy, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, communication, and complex decision making, to name a few.
“Responsible automation” in practice
Stitch Fix is a fashion subscription box that uses AI to select clothes customers will love. But the company doesn’t just rely on AI to do this; it’s the perfect blend of artificial intelligence and human stylists that makes the service so awesome.
At Stitch Fix, the machines do the initial work of process huge amounts of data and assess the likelihood that a customer will like a particular style, based on the customer’s information, preferences, and previous choices. Then a human stylist finalizes the selection and writes a personal note advising the client on how to style the items.
To me, that’s a fantastic example of getting the most out of machines and humans, and it’s something that many organizations could learn from. This perfect symbiosis between intelligent machines and capable humans is referred to by automation pioneers Faethm as “responsible automation.” Faethm is on a mission to make sure automation is done in a way that doesn’t leave humans out, and the company’s approach is to break tasks down into fractions of tasks to see what can and cannot be automated. Achieved in this way, automation – at least according to Faethm – should not lead to job losses. Instead, humans move on to more rewarding tasks.
The key point here is that organizations need to start identifying which tasks are best suited for machines so that those tasks can be automated, letting humans do the more complex and rewarding work. And on top of that, employers need to equip their workforce with the skills that will be essential for success in the 21st century.
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