The world is getting ready to brace with the power of future technology – the combined forces of Robotics (bot) – expected to do heavy duty work; Artificial Intelligence (AI) – supposed to empower its users with contextual knowledge, experience and wisdom; Virtual Reality (VR) – that’s going to bring a new dimension to experiencing interactions around us. Each technology is a block-buster, promising large-scale benefits to the human race - speed, power, efficiency and knowledge. But is the human race excited over adopting these technologies or worried about the future?
When driverless car takes-off, drivers would get displaced–machines have always been more efficient than human beings, and can work tirelessly. When drones start delivering things, ‘delivery-boys’ will become redundant. When Robots start cleaning and cutting veggies and deciding on menus, the kitchen team including the cooks, will get displaced. Drivers, delivery persons, cooks and many such people form an important part of our society, whose jobs are expected to vanish future. May be other kinds of jobs may emerge that would employ drivers, delivery persons, cooks of today, for which they would need to re-skill themselves.
When the friendly bot starts advocating the medicine you need to take, visits for routine check-up to the nearby clinic or lab would become unnecessary. Personal physicians –a piece of software, knows your body and mind including your allergies, far better than a doctor could understand from you. The bot would be updating itself of the developments in the medical field and its recommendations will be more trust worthy. Bot’s and gadgets in and over our bodies will act as our personal doctors.
Bots will also teach, account, farm, write and do many more activities making them specialists in their skills and versatile in their capabilities. From assembling cars on the shop-floor, to cutting and chopping farm and animal produce in restaurant kitchens, advising people on health matters... robots would do all kind of things that we want them to do. Human-beings would be recipients of some wonderful and precise services rendered by machines in the near future.
Virtual reality is already providing us with experiences that amaze us. In future, surgeons would be able to dissect a human body virtually, and learn medicine from a virtual doctor. Organisations will give their customers a real feel of the products to come, thereby reducing the time and cost of prototypes and proof-of-concepts. Learning to play musical instruments by waving your hands or interacting with your friend who is on the other side of the planet, as though both were in the same room, will become real stuff – no travel and easy access to everything one desires for.
The future of augmented reality moves from entertainment and gaming to real business activities - selling and buying products and services. Be it at a retail store, in a heavy engineering business or even in service oriented business like Food & Beverage – the chef would appear on your table to show how your order is prepared as you see the dish being served for you. The experience is going to be very enthralling. Technology will be thrilling!
Let’s look at these technologies from business enterprises perspective.
At work place, robots will produce goods, write and test software, manage quality and compliances, handle customer issues and complaints, as well as maintain accurately the books of accounts. The entry level jobs in offices and those in factory working as machine operators, are likely to experience difficulties in finding jobs in the corporate world. Irrespective of such jobs perishing, the quantum of in-take is expected to reduce significantly on account of automation.
Artificial Intelligence – which envelopes Business Analytics and Business Intelligence, is expected to do real time forecasting, planning, scheduling of production and delivery activities, and optimise the sequence to suit business expectations. These are roles done at lower to middle-management levels. In addition, scanning the environment, understanding competitive strategies etc. are also tasks AI would be capable of doing. Dynamic pricing, customer based discounts, understanding customer profiles intimately, etc. are already being done by systems, that are delivering business benefits.
Middle Management roles have two distinct aspects – managing the predictable outcome activities which follow set processes, where their working knowledge becomes useful, and, manage unpredictable outcome activities like, people management, motivation and leadership, communicating and managing last minute changes, etc., where their skills are tested. In effect, they ‘manage’ their sub-ordinates (workers and above) and their bosses (top management and below), through knowledge and skills respectively. As automation increases, robots will do the heavy-lifting jobs, that would reduce people on the shop-floor and at the entry level too. Thus, the number of managers required at the lower to middle management level will consequently reduce. Further, predictable and process oriented tasks would be done by systems, which would free up further managerial positions, and managers at the middle level would be given more thinking oriented tasks and to manage unpredictable situations, which fall out of the purview of systems and processes – exigency management. AI is capable of providing context-based knowledge. Thus, there is likelihood of further reduction at the middle management level, and managing people and those events that happen unexpectedly would become the primary job descriptions. Middle Management level jobs would also become fewer, in future.
At the top management level, good performance is expected at all times. The pressure to perform at any cost would start weighing on top executives and they need to be seen as being responsive to changing environments. Showing a performance better than their arch rival’s will be a compelling factor. Therefore, within an uncertain environment (VUCA), making rapid changes in strategies, taking calculated risks and redefining objectives will become their major responsibilities. They would be expected to take decisions under trying circumstances, and top management would feel safer to rely on data than their own instincts. Predictive analytics will become the bedrock of top management’s decision-making and gut and intuition will fade away.
One of the major skills at that level is being subjective and reading the future through gut and instincts. The more it becomes data backed decisions, the more the case is set for future technologies to start taking decisions, by-passing the human instinct. That would cause a lot of concern, should it happen.
Technologies like Robotics, AI, VR will increase the efficiency and performance levels of an organisation, but they will also take away operational and managerial jobs. Employment opportunities in future will be adversely impacted. In all the previous eras where automation had displaced human beings from performing certain kinds of jobs, there was a visibility into the kind of jobs that would be done in future. Towards that, there was hope, and the world believed that with better re-skilling, job opportunities would emerge.
That concept seems to be getting challenged, as skill and knowledge are both getting replaced almost simultaneously. Driverless cars may not value add significantly, but will have drastic impact in a society that considers employment as a source of livelihood. Automation at the level of teachers, cashiers, accountants, para-medical staff etc. are great as supplements but not as substitutes. These jobs are not similar to that of a stenographer being replaced by a word processor or spreadsheets making calculators redundant. Likewise, as decision-making veers towards fact-based, machines would find it more suitable. Instincts are an important aspect of decision making and there needs to be a case for preserving that in the corporate world.
Avoiding failures is a good tactic, but not providing for failure will kill the business itself. Failures have taught better lessons than any other experience ever has. Failures have given newer perspectives and allowed for innovation. The opportunity to innovate is a human instinct, and when we allow that to flourish, all forms of automation will remain subservient to human beings. Else, the future can be really scary.