How close are we to AI robotic machines a.k.a. intelligent cyborgs imitating human behavior? This is perhaps a question for the most renowned Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts the world over, but there’s no doubt that emerging technologies have brought us to the precipice of major business transformation, and there’s no turning back.
According to a recent PWC report, up to 30% of existing UK jobs could be impacted by automation by early 2030s, but new job will be created elsewhere in economy. US is at 38%, Germany at 35% but higher than Japan at 21%. In many cases the nature of jobs will change rather than disappear.
As predicted, the likelihood of automation appears highest in sectors such as transport, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail, and lower in education, health and social work with male workers being at greater risk of job automation.
“Automating more manual and repetitive tasks will eliminate some existing jobs, but could also enable some workers to focus on higher value, more rewarding and creative work,” said PwC Chief Economist John Hawksworth. “By boosting productivity — a key U.K. weakness over the past decade — and so generating wealth, advances in robotics and AI should also create additional jobs in less automatable parts of the economy as this extra wealth is spent.”
In the UK, the Government has also recognized the significant economic opportunities presented by robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence. And, it has acknowledged that more needs to be done to support the development of this industry.
While a robotics leadership governance council is yet to be fully established, the government are providing significant funding. In the 2016 Autumn Statement, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced major increases in research and development funding for universities, including technologies such as robotics and AI.
A £23BN National Productivity Investment Fund has been allocated for innovation and infrastructure over the next five years, and this will help the UK remain an attractive proposition for businesses to invest in innovative research.
Can humans stay relevant in an age of AI?
It’s no secret that tech giants are leading the way in AI. Google, Facebook and Microsoft are making huge strides, whilst Apple, IBM, Skype, Salesforce.com and Shell are also investing heavily.
However, they’re exercising caution, too. Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, as well as Stephen Hawking have both called for AI to be regulated and monitored. Elon Musk talks about the need for a “merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence” and that humans will need to evolve to stay relevant against the power and speed of computers.
Musk estimates that 12 to 15 percent of the global workforce will be out of a job once autonomous vehicles take over driving duties.
AI and even Chat Bots are coming to the forefront of how an organization creates a better customer service. The impact of ‘smart automation’ – the combination of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other digital technologies – is already visible in driverless cars and trucks, intelligent virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana, and Japanese healthcare robots. AI robots or chat bots won’t necessarily take over the human function, although in some instances it might, but it will certainly assist customer support people, becoming an intelligent customer services assistant. This in turn will lead to customer success, ultimately benefiting the organization and the end consumer…
These advancements are already bringing to the forefront several intriguing questions, perhaps still too theoretical to answer. Will AI be the ultimate downfall of the human workforce, especially in traditional blue collar industries? What are the moral dilemmas of a rising AI workforce; should we be starting to heed the stark warnings delivered by popular TV shows, such as HBO’s Westworld and Channel 4’s Humans?
What are the drivers for co-existence in an AI world?
This ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ with its emphasis on emerging technology breakthroughs has enormous potential for reduced cost, risk and waste, as well as increased employee engagement.
Whilst the majority of the cyborg AI innovation and transformation focus continues to be in the G7/G20 markets, there is a vast workforce in the wider emerging markets where capacity, capability upskilling, utilization and maturity of the workforce needs to be considered, when we think of AI cyborg co-existence. In essence, whilst there is a drive for automation, how can we utilize the untapped workforce in the broader emerging markets. There are opportunities for global organizations, and for progressive and innovative firms to create partnerships with local organizations in emerging markets to conduct initial assessments on how the workforce can be leveraged.
From the perspective of a business organization, no matter its size and nature, it needs to rethink its front, middle and back office organizational construct and processes and streamline operations, and more importantly support staff to take on new roles.
The focus should shift from removing human labor to re-strategizing it; in essence, asking the question – what can your workforce do that brings the most value to your organization? Picture an organization with 3 parts i.e.,
- Front office: Interaction with clients and external stakeholders mostly relies on human interaction and the building of trust, and there is no doubt the front office is furthest away from a complete replacement by AI Cyborg technology.
- Middle office: Heavy interaction between humans and computers has great potential for improvement in the middle-office. Think about big data and business intelligence – imagine if there was a human who could work with an AI cyborg to create business solutions?
- Back office: With its focus on providing core support to the front line, traditional back-office operations are positioned as most likely to reap the benefits of increased spending in robotics and automation. Whilst these tasks are of course essential to business performance, they do not need to be performed by human employees. If we can totally eliminate the back office using process robotics, we can move to create a single office where workers are client-focused and concentrate on marketing, product innovation and total customer satisfaction.
The goal of transforming a business organization into an AI Cyborg ready state needs to be sold as one that will be defined and implemented in the business-as-usual environment, rather than a transformation programme. Whilst the discipline of programmes will be leveraged it needs to have collaboration of champions and sponsors from each business area, not a just a select few in closed doors.
AI cyborg evolution in organizations across sectors is inevitable in some form or shape. The organizations who have this topic on their board agenda and who begin to establish strategic business goals to assess internal/external opportunities in line with market and technological trends will not only be successful and ready, but will also realize top line benefits in the long run. That would mean evaluating the organizational and business operating model architecture and subsequently executing a suite of goals in the business-as-usual environment in pilots.
Driven by the CEO and executive senior leadership, an innovation leadership council should be established internally within organizations for overall responsibility. The business functions in partnership with the people function (HR) should be heavily involved for workforce planning, futuristic cultural alignment, HR lifecycle transformation and behavioral change. Phased implementation is key, with pilots in place, enabling change and ensuring that the workforce are engaged and ready to take the next step.
We will barely recognize the world of work in a couple of decades as we know it today. It’s an intimidating and yet an illuminating look into our future. Clearly, the world is technologically evolving especially in the AI space, albeit the legal, regulatory and economic constraints that might restrict the pace and scale of future releases in automation.
In my view, there are a lot of positives and benefits, and if our thought process is to not only view AI Cyborg evolution as ‘replacement of humans’ but more importantly as ‘co-existence with humans’, that would be step forward not only in building progressive mindsets across the workforce, but also tapping into the soft and hard opportunities that are available in the organizations and emerging markets. Two key considerations:
ONE: Establish strategic business goals and create conducive environments in organizations to drive forward the AI agenda
TWO: Automation aside, there is a vast potential workforce in emerging markets. Explore, assess and leverage this opportunity.