AI Needs Humans in the Workforce

As machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies continue advancing at breakneck speeds, there is a rapidly growing concern about what the rise of automation and AI means for the workforce masses. As computers show increasing cognitive capabilities, create revolutionary efficiencies, and produce cost savings in the billions, where does that leave millions of workers? Are we standing on the brink of total workforce annihilation?

Businesswoman presenting on tablet to colleagues at a modern office.

Given prominent figures like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk expressing substantial concerns regarding the rise of AI, these questions are not exactly science-fiction fodder. Furthermore, a general unfamiliarity with the mechanics behind AI helps propagate fear of these emerging technologies, creating a highly receptive audience for those who claim that the “rise of the machines” will be the downfall of the human race, starting with our own personal economic viability.

However, these speculations regarding how AI will impact the future of work tend to disregard the significant benefits of AI in the workforce, including intellectual diversity and the employee experience. While several variables, such as technological developments and global economic trends, will determine AI’s ultimate drawbacks and benefits, the odds favor that a far more positive evolution of the employment landscape will develop in tandem with the rise of AI.

Shaking the AI Terminator Scenario

First, we need to let go of the idea that the proliferation of AI ultimately leads us to an apocalyptic fate a la The Matrix or Terminator. While it’s true that tasks will be increasingly subject to automation in the future, it is far from likely that humans will fade into obscurity in the face of machine singularity.

In fact, many experts argue that an emerging symbiotic relationship is far more likely with machines and humans working together in a continual “feedback cycle” in which both sides benefit from the other’s respective strengths.

This scenario is strikingly similar to the circumstances surrounding the introduction of ATM machines into banking. Despite public concerns that ATMs would put bank tellers out of work, the machines led to more bank branches and more bank tellers by making it less costly to open and operate banks. Furthermore, freeing tellers from menial tasks allowed them to focus on client relationships and other complex activities, making their presence in the industry more valuable than ever.

Consequently, many speculate that a similar scenario will probably develop in many industries in response to the implementation of AI and automation technologies. McKinsey projects that only 5 percent of current jobs can even be fully automated, but that AI could potentially displace 15 percent of workers  and require 3 percent of workers to shift occupational categories by 2030.

Symbiotic Relationship Between AI and Humans in the Workforce

McKinsey also went on to predict that most workers will continue their current roles but with machine augmentation.  Furthermore, McKinsey suggests that as many as 890 million jobs will be created in direct response to rising incomes and consumption; increased healthcare demands; skilled worker demand from technological advances; renewable energy; investments in infrastructure; and the “marketization” of domestic labor.

Consequently, preparing workers for workforce success in the future is dependent on ongoing education and training so that their skills and experience meet the job market’s needs and have optimal integration with AI technological advances.

This means that our perceptions and responses to technological change will ultimately determine AI’s impact on jobs as much as the changes themselves. So, it’s up to us to act today to start adapting for the workforce of tomorrow to take advantage of the inherent opportunities in optimizing technological advances.

In their new study, “Cognitive Diversity: AI & The Future of Work,” Ken Goldberg of University of California – Berkeley and Vinod Kumar, CEO of Tata Communications, reimagine the workplace as AI comes into its own. They say that now is the time to develop a strategy for incorporating AI in organizational strategy according to what machines are likely to handle in the future. This involves worker training, looking into new areas for human/machine collaboration and developing worker attributes that will enhance this collaboration.

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