The age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is upon us. The last few years saw tremendous development in this field with high computing power that’s inexpensive, better learning algorithms and huge volumes of digital data. The advent of AI also means change. The jury is still out on how AI will define the future; while optimists see a far more advanced world where technology will continue to make life easier for people, skeptics predict doomsday for humanity.
Many think of AI as a superpower we often see in movies with the potential to either do a lot of good for the world or, if used the wrong way, to annihilate the planet and its people. While we may debate what's realistic and what sits better in a work of fiction, we need to objectively analyze the social and economic impact of AI. A particularly sensitive area is the impact of AI on jobs.
First, let’s understand how enterprises are using AI across different business functions. Today, applications of AI range across a broad spectrum like analyzing legal contracts and policy documents in a fraction of time; creating a personalized online experience and automating inventory management to reduce ‘returns’ from customers; identifying anomalies in financial data by using machine learning; using chatbots that help book an airline ticket and lot more. This is disruptive and a huge leap forward. Yet we are still quite far from developing general purpose AI that’s comparable to human intelligence.
While machines can be far more efficient in certain specific jobs, they can’t carry out a range of multifaceted creative tasks that humans are capable of. As we learn more from our experiences of what AI can do, several different types of job scenarios unfold.
Less mundane, more creative:
At the most basic level, any job that is repetitive, objective, data-driven and follows a set process can be replaced by AI. This would extend to any job that can be broken into several smaller steps and each of those could be automated too. In the next few years, some tasks performed by accountants, stockbrokers, lawyers, back-office executives and even radiologists could be replaced. AI will free up human minds from performing mundane, repetitive tasks so that we can do work that is more creative. However, in a few instances, it could also mean the elimination of the job itself. For instance, if self-driving vehicles become the norm in developed countries, the role of professional truck drivers and cab drivers may become redundant.
But, this is not something that hasn’t happened before. Certain job roles that were thriving a few years ago, such as telegraphists and switchboard operators, no longer exist. Instead, they have been replaced with new technology that demands a workforce equipped with new skills. Thus, it’s imperative that we work towards equipping people with the skills and knowledge that will be needed in the future.
Combining the best of two worlds:
The notion of fully autonomous AI is still at least a few years away. Enterprises that smartly combine the creativity of the human mind with the efficiency of machines will achieve success. It’s not man vs. machine, but man and machine. For instance, the expertise of radiologists, accountants, lawyers can be scaled because they can train the machines - after that either the machines can do the job or help the larger teams carry out the tasks with AI recommended actions and suggestions. This would increase efficiency and reduce the effort of human resources. For the foreseeable future, businesses will need humans to teach machines to work smarter.
We are still trying to figure out how the human brain learns – the creativity, imagination and the ability to contextualize is something machines can’t emulate on their own.
Anything that is not formulaic will be difficult for machines to excel in. And so jobs that need creativity, strategizing, problem-solving, persuasion, empathy, coaching, teaching and counseling are less likely to be impacted by AI.
Machines need not apply:
The tasks that may not be automated will be complex, requiring a high emotional quotient. Let’s take the example of customer service. The agent of future will be tech savvy, with strong cognitive and analytical skills focusing on handling high-value, complex conversations with customers. For example, they would step in to handle a frustrated customer or address an unusual request or a question, which a machine may not be able to do. These uniquely human capabilities – emotional quotient and other soft skills are essential to the workforce of the future, particularly in the customer service domain.
The evolving field of AI itself will require a lot of people working on AI and pushing its boundaries. Additionally, the confluence of AI and Internet of Things, wearable technology may produce job opportunities that we can’t fathom today. We will also need a long-term change in our education system, to prepare future generations for job opportunities that will be created by the advent of AI or in the field of AI.
AI is already changing the way we live. What matters is how we leverage it to enhance our own capabilities in the workplace. As we ready ourselves for the AI era, our strategy needs to be combining artificial intelligence and human intelligence for maximum success.