For the last several years, workers around the country and around the globe have been uniting behind the same rallying cry: “the robots are taking our jobs!” Automation, augmentation, and AI technology are quickly growing trends in the workplace. Indeed, it’s now a necessity for businesses that want to keep up with the competition. But many are concerned that this shift to automation won’t leave room for the human role. In this week’s blog, we’re covering some of the common concerns about surrounding automation and AI, how businesses can help their employees work together with new technology, and what augmented superteams will look like.
Common Automation Concerns
Many workers’ primary concern is that their jobs will be lost in favor of robots and automated programs that do their jobs in less time with potentially less error, and all without a weekly paycheck and employee benefits. These fears are not wholly unwarranted. Automated technology is replacing some jobs. In fact, one study predicted that by 2030, 1 in every 3 Americans will cede their job and/or tasks to robots or AI. Jobs in the transportation, food service, storage, and manufacturing/construction industries are at the highest risk because they are repetitive and can be easily automated.
But there is a bright spot amidst what appears to be a gloomy outlook. One is that the transition to automation is still moving fairly slowly. This gives workers time to reskill to meet the new needs of the changing workplace. But more on that later. First, a bit more background on automation and AI.
Types of Automation
Before we can really dive into this topic and address this concern, we have to understand the different kinds of automation and AI that currently exist:
- Robotic Process Automation – This automates repetitive, rule-based processes. Such technology cannot learn, adapt, or make decisions; it simply makes mundane tasks more efficient. This could look like a robot constructing cars on an assembly line.
- Machine Learning – A computer uses large volumes of data to understand and predict a course of action as well as improve its ability to predict over time. Chat-bots used by financial institutions, for instance, are an excellent example of this.
- Cognitive Augmentation – This is the closest technology we have to true artificial intelligence. IBM’s Watson computer is an apt example. It takes unstructured data and provides answers to complex questions. One practical application is the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York using Watson’s software system for utilization management decisions in lung cancer patients.
It’s important that we don’t view these categories as levels that automation will progress through. Instead, each one each serves a unique purpose and can complete different tasks. Robotics automation removes the burden of repetitive tasks, machine learning can solve certain low-level questions and continue learning so that humans can be better utilized to solve more complex problems, and cognitive augmentation can synthesize and analyze data efficiently to more quickly provide solutions to problems.
How to Work Together with Technology
Even though the thought of robots and AI taking over some tasks of the workforce can be scary, there is also a lot of growth potential. And this is where the idea of augmentation comes in. To augment simply means to make something better—greater, more efficient—by adding to it. So in this case, the use of technology can augment, or make better, our work.
When we augment human and technological resources, jobs aren’t necessarily disappearing; they’re just changing. Indeed, for a job to be completely automated and to entirely eliminate the human component, the machine would have to do the work just as well (i.e. drastically reduced errors, etc.), or more likely better than the humans. And it must do this all at a lower cost.
But technology like this is still few and far between. For example, many large-scale businesses, like financial institutions or insurance companies, have implemented chat bots or automated customer service lines. But often a customer just want to speak to another person when combating a complex problem. This type of technology can be beneficial for assisting with basic issues. It can help guide customers to the right department, but it is not sophisticated enough to handle more thorny problems.
By removing the burden of repetitive or low-level problem-solving tasks, workers are freed up to contribute to value-adding tasks. So when a worker performs in tandem with automated technology, their job is augmented so that they can accomplish even more work in less time with fewer mistakes. Deloitte calls this worker plus automated technology a “superjob.”
The next step in augmentation then is to extend the work of humans and machines together to the group. We call this a “superteam.”
As mentioned previously, Deloitte was the first to coin the term “superteam.” It encompasses the integration of AI into human work teams.
Obviously, work teams have become the standard unit of a successfully functioning organization. These businesses are group-centric and network-based. AI then simply augments the team. The human team and AI working together actually increases the business’s overall work and thus creates value. So superjobs are augmented, but superteams are an extension of the superjob and are collaborative.
Businesses can use augmented teams and their machine elements to simply complete the same tasks, but perhaps a more effective approach is to allow these superteams to reimagine the nature of work and the workplace, rather than merely doing the same work in the same way as before.
A Reimagined Workplace
Of course, reimagining the workplace is no small feat. Deloitte offers some ideas on what this might take. There are many steps that everyone, individual employees and leaders alike, can take. But from a company-wide perspective, here are three ways you can start to prepare for new technology:
- Create a long-term integration plan. Instead of utilizing automation and AI for quick fixes to immediate problems, consider the use of technology over the long run. How will the machines and technology you implement today benefit you five and ten years down the road?
- Help employees to transition. Likely, you will still need many of your employees to complete the work of the business. Being transparent about the change and how your employees will be vital to a successful transition helps set them up for success.
- Invest in your workers. Since many of your employees’ jobs will be changing, they will either need to reskill, upskill, or do both. Businesses that provide on-the-job training communicate to employees their value to the company.
The use of automated technology and AI will be critical in this fourth industrial revolution. Businesses who want to be successful must get on board the automation train and learn how to augment their workforces with new technology.