Automation And The Human Workforce

What The Future Of Work Holds



Jeff Orr
05/20/2019

The trend of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies adoption in the enterprise is rapidly changing the perspective of employers’ business strategy, the workforce’s roles, and the industries serving these organizations. Automation from the use of intelligent systems has the potential to redefine the future of work. Highly repetitive tasks and transaction-oriented processes are ripe for automation. Benefits from this revolution are expected to realign workers with more productive roles and provide customers with access to more customized and personalized services.

In the same way that the internet has created new roles, jobs, and expanded the access to information in the past ten years, intelligent systems will cause a similar change. This change will require enterprises and workers to adjust to these technologies. The rate at which companies recognize and act upon this tectonic shift in how systems and humans work side-by-side will be countered only by resistance from corporate governance, government-imposed regulation, and societal pressures.

Only 10-15 years ago, computers were revolutionizing the productivity and workflow of office workers and the first concepts of mobile devices, in the form of PDAs and smartphones, were emerging. Since then, the cost and physical size of computational processing, data transmission, and data storage have all been reduced dramatically with the introduction of cloud and so-called big data services.

Today, more than 1.5 billion smartphones ship globally each year, according to a global forecast from industry analyst firm IDC. AI-powered technology is performing medical diagnosis and generating financial reports in several hours that typically consume specialized teams several weeks. And on-going trials and pilot programs using a multitude of sensor data exist today that will potentially replace the job of driving vehicles.

A recent report by OECD identified 14% of jobs to be highly automatable, while an additional 32% of jobs could face substantial change in how they are carried out. Roles for routine jobs that have a low skill requirement (and often low wages) are at the highest risk for automation.

However, the OECD reports work from a 2017 University of Oxford study also points out three sets of tasks, which cannot be easily automated because these tasks are not rules-based.

  • Tasks related to perception and manipulation. These tasks are often unstructured and complex. The work of an automotive mechanic or field service personnel fits the challenge of automating this task.
  • Tasks related to creative intelligence, such as coming up with original ideas. While software algorithms exist to replicate artistic stylings – think of the imaging filters found in instant messaging applications – the software is not designed to conceive new approaches.
  • Tasks related to social intelligence. Understanding other people’s reactions in social contexts or assisting and caring for others – despite advancements in emotional AI and personal care robots for the elderly in Japan – remains human-centric for the foreseeable future.

Workforce automation is often focused on the manufacturing industry though anywhere that high volume, transaction-oriented tasks, such as roles in financial services, insurance, and banking, exist, fears of a human-less workforce have surfaced . Retraining workers to align with the future of work may seem obvious, though employers and industries find it challenging at best. And implementing such a change is both costly and time-consuming at enterprise scale.

About 100,000 workers at US telecommunications service provider AT&T were in jobs having to do with hardware functions that most likely won't exist in the next decade. According to disclosures from AT&T, about half of the company’s 250,000 workers have the requisite skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) necessary to intersect its future goals. The corporation has been assessing how best to remain competitive in worker skills since 2008 and is currently reskilling workers in data networking, cloud operations, and mobile-first enterprise services.

Even with all the research and forecasts, there remains a high amount of uncertainty for how many actual jobs will go away in favor of automation. Not all jobs that potentially could be automated will make the transition. New roles will be created to manage automated processes along with new supplier ecosystems to support integration and operation of new technologies. The net effect from automation through intelligent systems could be the continued rise of total jobs.

This article was originally published by Enterprise Mobility Exchange.

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