Predicting the future of work can be a daunting task. The only thing we know with surety is that at present, we don’t know nearly enough. This has led to divisive opinions being formed, wherein on one hand, AI has been termed as a ‘job killer’, on the other, a harbinger of innovation. In this context, a recent study provides a much-needed perspective on how the future might play out. ‘Cognitive Diversity: AI & The Future of Work’ is a comprehensive study on AI and its impact on work by Tata Communications1. The study reveals how AI is changing and will change, the way we work, and also identifies the trends and impact of AI on work and the workforce while providing a historical context to the recent developments that have taken place in the domain.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights of the report.
The Paradigm Shift that AI will Bring
Instead of believing the one-dimensional narrative that AI will take over the world of work, how about we prepare for a future wherein machines and humans work together? The ‘singularity’ world-view, wherein machines reign supreme, will not become a reality. This is because “despite many advances in narrow domains, AI is extremely far from achieving human-level general intelligence.” Hence, instead of worrying about machines becoming more intelligent than humans, we need to find ways to work together efficiently. This will open up new domains of collaboration and actually make the information, knowledge, and intelligence more diverse than ever.
AI will enable competent decision-making by backing human capabilities with well-structured and analyzed data. In other words, the need for human labor will not fade away and it might as well become more prominent for the importance of human-centric abilities will be higher than ever. AI will help humans enhance their abilities in two ways: by freeing up their time and doing repetitive tasks, and by fostering richer connections between teams and organizations and helping them collaborate effortlessly. It should then come as no surprise that 93 percent of the leaders in the study are implementing, experimenting with, or thinking about AI. More so, 75 percent of the leaders surveyed in the study said that AI will create new roles in their business and 71 percent believed that re-skilling of workers will be needed in the next five years.
AI will diversify human thinking and could help create and maintain working groups that optimize cognitive thinking
While it is reaffirming to think and believe that the future will be more agile, productive, and inclusive, the transition to the said future will be anything but easy. However, simply being conscious of the challenges of today and tomorrow is likely to make a big difference. Humans have proven to be rather flexible and adaptive throughout history. The report discusses the success of ‘High School Movement’ in the USA in the first half of the twentieth century, which was aimed to prepare students for jobs other than farming, owing to increasing farm automation techniques. It further suggests that a similar movement to emphasize the uniquely human skills of creativity, curiosity, imagination, empathy and human communication, diversity and innovation needs to be undertaken today in order to prepare for the future.
The Opportunity for Individuals
The ‘workforce’ is often regarded as a single homogenized unit that will not be able to compete with AI. However, the fact of the matter is that even two people in the exact same role might do things very differently, which means that the way AI will impact their day-to-day work could be drastically different. The study analyses and contextualizes these differences in jobs in the framework of AI. For CEOs, AI can provide insights on decision-making in order to remove bias and maintain objectivity, help in assembling diverse teams, and further innovation. Intelligent systems could accurately point out weaknesses in decision-making or use natural language processing to understand how teams feel about their leaders. AI can also aid HR leaders in engaging employees, predicting impending people crisis, tracking immeasurable cues and metrics, streamlining learning and making routine HR tasks self-serviced. Similarly, project managers, office managers, and supply chain managers can benefit from AI by formalizing innovation and ideation, handling complex scheduling and rosters, building relationships and enhancing collaboration. Customer service representatives could handle customer tickets and queries much more effectively by learning about the severity of the issue, the mood of the customer, and could benefit with better coordination with the backend technicians. Similarly, computer programmers could use intelligent AI systems to track upcoming innovation, identify upcoming academic trends, and shortlist relevant training material and courses.
The structure of work will change and require greater flexibility and agility, while work will move from being task-based to strategic, enabling workers to enhance their curiosity and creative thinking
Entrepreneurs and store owners could optimize communications, business processes, and marketing promotions to increase efficiency and save resources. Truck drivers would benefit by getting assistance, optimizing their time and planning, and picking the best routes. Journalists stand to gain by using AI systems to cross-reference news and happenings with reliable sources, new developments, and ensure consistency of information; thereby focusing on reporting reliably and giving news more context. The way intelligent tools and systems will help individuals work better is becoming clearer by the day, but the environment in which both will operate together hasn’t been clarified yet, which sets the tone for the final section of the report.
AI: The Present and the Future
The report discusses four prominent themes regarding AI and the future of work:
- The structure of work will change and require greater agility and flexibility
- AI has the potential to help individuals become more agile, curious, and nimble
- AI has the potential to enhance human collaboration
- AI has the potential to enhance cognitive diversity within groups
80 percent of the companies that were surveyed or studied during the making of the report are already using AI for research and development, management and human resources, customer service and production. Furthermore, at the very core, the human attitude towards AI is more positive than negative, as more people think that AI will bring about a positive change and create new jobs than those who think that AI will replace jobs and humans. A majority of leaders believe that while AI will replace existing job roles, it will also create new ones. Leaders of both small and large companies are convinced that AI will have a positive impact and are preparing accordingly. Unsurprisingly, leaders who value cognitive diversity also believe that AI’s impact will be positive. There is also a very clear recognition of the fact that significant changes need to be made to the present way of working. The leaders stated that they are providing tools of re-skilling, aligning systems and processes to adopt AI, changing their product and service offerings, teaching their employees to function alongside AI, and also updating ethics and code of conduct policies.
The study presents an encouraging glimpse into the future and vindicates supporters of AI and automation. However, more than anything, it confirms that there are a lot of possible scenarios of the future of work and that we have a lot of ground to cover, and we might be already running behind schedule.
1 With Prof. Goldberg