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Workforce Enablement

Will AI Prove Workforce Foe, or Friend?

The race between human and machine is on, and experts are mixed on what it means for the future of work

The debate about the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs rages on. Will human jobs go the way of the buggy whip, the slide rule, and the hula hoop? Some say it’s a matter of if, and not when, this will happen. While others argue it’s not likely any time soon — if at all. The reality is that while no one knows for certain, machine learning, and eventually AI is going to change our relationships with our work and careers forever.

According to an online Brookings Institution survey of 2,021 adult Internet users (undertaken through an online U.S. national poll of 2,021 between June 4 and 6, 2018) 52 percent of respondents believe, within 30 years, robots will have reached the point where they can perform most of the activities currently performed by people.

The survey uncovered a considerable amount of apprehension when it comes to work, automation, and AI. The survey queried people’s current view of robots and found that robots make 61 percent of respondents uncomfortable.

While sixteen percent were not sure how they feel about robots, another 16 percent said that they were comfortable with them. When asked if robots would make their lives easier (this is what robots are purportedly designed to do anyway) a surprisingly low 38 percent of respondents believe robots will make their lives easier, while 17 percent believe robots will actually make their lives more difficult. Forty-five percent said they remained unsure whether or not robots will make their lives easier.

The race between human and machine is on, and there’s good reason for the angst. In recent years, study after study has been published predicting that a substantial number of jobs will be displaced. The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization Oxford University study concluded that 47 percent of jobs will be performed by AI or fully automated out of existence. The jobs that are on the likelihood of extinction include those whose traits include routine tasks that can be completed algorithmically, so data entry clerks, tax preparators, insurance underwriters, white color analysts, and similar positions are at great risk of going away.

In another study, this one completed by Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum in early 2018, concluded that about 1 million American workers will see the occupation they currently work disappear in seven years.

Fortunately, not all predictions are dire. As we covered recently in Automation: Competition for Work or a Job Creation Engine? a McKinsey Global Institute report predicts that over the next decade or so there will be hundreds of millions of new jobs created because of the growth of the world economy, new technologies, and aging boomers.

Whatever the future holds, as Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson wrote in their book Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future, we are all going to probably have to learn how to effectively partner with the machines. The authors contend that the research is clear: as time goes on, for jobs that can be automated, the algorithms will be designed to make better decisions and will eventually outperform human workers.

Those enterprises, and workers, who succeed in the future will be those who reengineer the role of the human to work with the machines so that they become effective collaborators together.

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