AI Will Create Employment And Generate New Skills

Right now, we’re living on the precipice of a fourth industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution brought us steam power and machinery.

The second brought electrical power, and with the third came the internet.

Which brings us to number four. But this new revolution, driven by artificial intelligence and automation, is taking a different tack from the previous ones. 

Those movements were all about introducing new technologies and new ways of working and then dropping them on top of how we did things already. 

This new revolution is about the fusion of people and technology, blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological in a way that is poised to dramatically reshape our day-to-day lives in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

One area where we’re already starting to see the impacts of this revolution is in the workplace.

The Difference between AI and Automation

With over 4,000 vehicles on the road, Addison Lee is one of the biggest private car services in London. It just recently made waves by announcing it was planning to begin deploying a fleet of self-driving cars starting in 2021. While they said they will continue to employ their 5,000 drivers and that the autonomous vehicles would be, as The Guardian reported, a supplementary “cheaper, autonomous ride-sharing version of its hire service,” the news touched an all-too-familiar nerve: 

What kind of threat does AI pose to human jobs?

The short answer is: it doesn’t really.

As with any new science, there are pros and cons. How we use that science is up to people; there’s no inherent way AI will drive up mass employment unless we make it do that. 

In fact, if used properly, AI will generate enormous benefits for everyone, in health care, education and the legal sector, to name a few areas. While certainly some tasks or roles will be taken over by machines and automation, these are going to be the more menial, tedious things that we often think of as soul-crushing. What better kind of work to give to a machine?

AI and automation will also open the door for scores of new job opportunities, many of which we can’t even imagine yet. Think of all the jobs the internet has created in just the past 20 years. Were any of these jobs even conceivable to people 100 years ago?

AI as Augmentation, Not Replacement

Consider child care or elder care, for instance. AI and machines are not going to be raising our kids or tending to elderly parents and grandparents; there is no substitute for the human touch in these environments, after all. But what they can do is take over some of the little tasks around the sidelines so the human caregivers are focused entirely on the things only they can do — like feeding, socializing or play.

Robots are not human beings. They’re not even close. And there’s no more danger to a robot replacing a human as there is to a vacuum cleaner replacing a human. The vacuum makes cleaning the house easier, but it doesn’t completely take away the job of cleaning from the person doing the cleaning. AI has more advanced cognitive capabilities than a vacuum, of course, but the principle is the same.

Continuous Education

The most important players for managing the impact of AI in the workplace, and on the workforce, are business leaders. And that’s not just for their own organisations. The decisions they make about AI at their companies will resonate and have ripple effects across society. When people see successful and balanced implementations of AI and automation, they’re going to take notice and imitate.

Because of this, business leaders need to be keenly aware of their responsibility. Meaning, they need to look not just at their own bottom lines, but at the bigger-picture implications, too. Rather than framing AI as a matter of “How do I reduce my costs and increase my profit margins?” they need to think along the lines of “What can I do tomorrow that I haven’t been able to do until now?”

The most critical thing business leaders can and must do in preparing their companies for a future of AI, automation and other emerging technologies is to promote continuous education for employees. 

The most valuable thing a company has is the domain knowledge of its workforce. It’s the employees who best understand their customers, their products, what they’re delivering and how well they’re faring on a day-to-day basis.

But today we have a generation of workers who are being taught technical skills in school that could very well be outdated the minute they hit the job market.  Instead, we need to give employees the tools and opportunities to be constantly absorbing new ideas and new ways of working so they’re always keeping up with the pace of change in their industries.

Business leaders need to prioritise conferences, education courses, training programs and more to ensure their workers know how AI and automation will benefit their companies and make their own jobs easier, and, most importantly, how to make the most of these new tools. 

Some companies already do this, but it needs to be a part of every company’s DNA from here on out.

Forbes:

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