AI, Machine Learning, and the Future of Work

AI, Machine Learning, and the Future of Work

Individuals and companies who are reluctant to embrace change and who see AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation as nothing more than the newest fad, will find themselves left behind as businesses transform thanks to the technology available now, and that which is to come in the near future.

We are already seeing machines carrying out many of those tasks that were previously done by humans, and in some cases even outperforming the homo-sapiens. What that means of course is that, from a business perspective, huge change is coming. Some jobs will inevitably be lost, some will change and others will be strengthened. It’s certain that workers will need to be adaptable and avail themselves of any new skills available to them.

Whether we realise it or not, AI and automation are already all around us as we go about our daily lives. Machine-learning algorithms are more sophisticated, ensuring that many technological advancements are beyond human capabilities.

From a business perspective the tech is also generating value as companies begin to understand their capabilities and utilise them in various processes. Labour productivity growth, which has slowed since the 2008 financial crisis, could even be reversed by AI and automation. It’s also worth noting that an algorithm has already been developed by Geisinger - a US based healthcare provider - that has the potential to reduce diagnostic times for intracranial hemorrhaging by up to 96 percent.

As part of the automation process, data collection and usage is still a hot potato topic, and the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) at least allows users more rights over how their personal data is collected and used, should any algorithms pick up the same when data mining. People, as well as outdated technology and reduced data availability has made it difficult for many companies to adopt these new technologies, though telecommunications and automotive companies appear to be the major leaders in terms of uptake.

As more companies take on board the technology, it’s clear that there will be disruption to the business during the transitional period. With current estimates appearing to suggest that 60 percent of all occupations could become automated in some way, there is no one sector that will be left untouched by the technology. What this means in simple terms is that nature of the work will change, possibly beyond recognition, and many jobs will notice a significant decline over the next decade and beyond.

However, the speed at which it will AI and automation will be implemented depends on a variety of factors. The cost of deployment is a major factor, as is the technical feasibility. Not to mention salary changes, and just how much a company wants to find itself devoid of the human touch so to speak. A ‘best guess’ at this point might see 20-25 percent of the workforces in Japan, France and the United States displaced by the technology.

The flip side to this is that jobs will still be available, and certain skill sets that are unable to be replicated by machines, required. For instance, additional economic growth will see rising productivity, and jobs that don’t even exist at present, will be created as part of this technological revolution. Partial automation is far more likely, and we’ve already seen this happening in the workplace. Where once Amazon employees lifted and stacked packages, they’re now trained to be robot operators who monitor the automation of that particular area of the job.

Companies have to be aware that working processes will need to be redesigned to ensure that humans work alongside machines effectively. A demand for physical and manual labour is likely to decline over the next 10-15 years, though those with advanced technological skills will become more sought after. Indeed, becoming digitally savvy will be a prerequisite. Growing occupations will include those with difficult to automate activities, such as managerial staff or those who work in unpredictable environments, such as plumbers, teachers and nurses.

There is work available for all now, as there will be in the future, even with automation a feature. Work will be different, and training/retraining both midcareer workers and new generations for the coming challenges will be imperative. Everyone needs to work together to better coordinate public and private initiatives, including creating the right incentives to invest more in human capital. The future with automation and AI will be challenging, but a much richer one if the technologies are harnessed in the right way.