Even as the Fourth Industrial Revolution stares us right in the eyes, we are unable to assess with certainty the scope of impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our future life and work. A lack of clarity has given rise to anxieties regarding what the future holds, and at one extreme end is the fear that intelligent machines and robots will render humans jobless and take over the world. However, if history is anything to go by, the previous three industrial revolutions managed to make fundamental structural changes to the society and business without ringing in the apocalypse. While the advancement of technology obviously made jobs, and sometimes entire industries, obsolete, it also gave rise to the automotive and digital industries which created jobs, for instance, a large portion of today’s workforce is working in jobs that were hardly heard of before the 1990’s. TeamLease Services expects AI alone to generate over 2.3 million jobs worldwide by 2020, but since it will also wipe nearly 1.7 million jobs off the market, the impact will be muted.
AI and Jobs
The popular, and inaccurate, notion that robots will replace humans is unlikely to materialize in reality as experts argue that while robots might take over blue-collar and white-collar jobs, they will not eliminate the need for humans completely, simply because, unlike humans, machines are not motivated to rule the world. Ekkehard Ernst, Chief of Macro-Economic Policies and Job Unit at UN International Labour Organization (ILO) opines, “It is not so much about losing jobs but about how jobs are being transformed and employees in these sectors will add new tasks to their profile while being supported by computers and robots in others.” In the process, however, AI will definitely make some roles and jobs obsolete. This means that new roles which require humans to interact with machines will gain prominence. And the Indian workforce is also reaching this conclusion on its own. Data from Indeed, a job site, shows that between June 2016 and June 2018, a remarkable 179 percent increase was witnessed in the number of job searches for AI-related roles. There has been a notable rise in the search for the roles of ‘Data Scientist’, ‘Software Engineer’, and ‘Machine Learning Engineer’, ‘AI Engineer’, and ‘Business Intelligence (BI) Developer’ in the last couple of years. Thus, new roles and jobs are being created and sought, even as old ones see a slump in their demand.
An opportunity for India
India offers experience, expertise, talent, and a vast workforce that puts it in a prime position to become a hub of process automation. For India to be a leader in the wave of automation, a joint effort by all the stakeholders – industry, government, academia, and employees – is indispensable. The workforce’s innate inclination to work in the IT sector, along with strong capabilities and focus can become a huge resource, provided they are given the right training.
The Indian workforce has another advantage that is unique. Indians are one of the most optimistic in the world about AI and robots in the workplace and are actually looking forward to working alongside machines. In contrast, automation isn’t viewed as favorably the western world.
A study by Salesforce showed that Indians hold a positive outlook towards AI compared to other nations, and most of them expect the job market will significantly improve with the advent of intelligent technologies.
64 percent of the respondents in the survey were confident that new jobs will emerge from AI and 56 percent were ready to upskill and update their skills to make them future-ready. Even Indian consumers expect AI to make the society smarter (50 percent) and life more convenient (58 percent).
As the demand for expertise on AI, machine learning (ML), data mining and analysis, neural networks, NLP, deep learning, encryption, and cybersecurity goes up, employees will have to update their skills in order to act as an interface between machines and processes. The industries of banking, financial services, insurance, manufacturing, automotive, telecom, and healthcare hold immense potential for process automation. These industries have a unique opportunity to leverage the best of technology and human intellect and design the future of work.
A recent Tata Communications study has shown that AI will diversify human thinking rather than replace it. However, the road to this diversification will be anything but easy, and the early signs are not very reassuring. While it is encouraging to see that Indian job-seekers are making themselves future-ready, the preparation is far from complete. The demand for AI skills has been double the talent supply beginning 2018 which has been consistently worsening, says Indeed. Furthermore, data from the National Institute of Skill Development (NISD) shows that a dismal 2 percent of the country’s workforce has undergone a skills training. If the current situation prevails, the evolution from a labor-intensive business environment to one that also incorporates machines and robots will, undoubtedly, be chaotic and tough. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Organizations and employees need to work on delegating repetitive tasks to machines and make way for current roles to be more creative and thought-driven.
The increasing role of machines in a business and workplace setting needs to be viewed as an eventuality, and steps need to be taken to make the transition to this new paradigm as smooth as possible.
As there is an attempt to automate everything that can be automated, the benefits will no longer be limited to a few groups or organizations. This democratization will make the process more inclusive and further the integration of AI and ML into core business models and practices. Preparing the workforce by reskilling and updating their capabilities, and equipping the right people to power AI solutions, is key to a smooth transition into the future of work. At the moment, the rapid pace of change and relative lack of knowledge is posing a challenge to predict the future. As an increasing number of professionals learn the technology better and interact with it more deeply, skepticism will give way to confidence. But the window to build an inclusive and well-planned future is shrinking fast, and if companies want to ride through this disruption smoothly, they need to build on their strengths. India has a unique advantage, which if leveraged smartly, can propel it to the leadership position.