A 2013 study by Oxford University researchers found that machines could replace about 47% of our jobs in the next two decades.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has become increasingly sophisticated and the prospect of a robot colleague is no longer the stuff of Star Wars sci-fi, but a reality that most of us will face in our working lives.
HR may become about connecting people to machines and even machines to each other, monitoring their work, updating their software and keeping the whole system thoroughly integrated.
AI technology exists right now, and some basic jobs are done by machines in a range of working environments around the world. In the future, even more jobs will incorporate automated tasks, including those which are perceived as more ‘creative’. The human workforce will need to adapt to this evolution and learn new skills to work with increasingly sophisticated technology.
New roles in technology management will be created, with humans needed to control, manage and interpret the machines and the digital data the machines produce.
What can the machines do?
Automated technology is transforming the working world of today. For example, you can walk into a burger restaurant and order from a touch-screen machine. In 10 years’ time, it is likely that your driverless taxi will autonomously drive you to the restaurant, where you not only order from a machine, but are served a burger prepared by a robotic arm.
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AI is all around us and is being incorporated into many different machines, monitoring systems, and security services. It is not just the traditionally humanoid C-3PO who will share our future, but all kinds of devices and systems will be available to take particularly laborious tasks out of our hands.
Initially, these AI systems will be able to take care of more routine tasks. They will take over repetitive filing work, freeing teachers to focus more on teaching and less on grading papers, and taking the paperwork out of doctors’ hands. Factories will become fully automated, and the ‘smart factory’, already introduced as a high-tech fully integrated manufacturing system, will become a much more mainstream and cost-effective concept.
In thirty years’ time, it’s likely that more ‘creative’ tasks will be carried out by machines. If you can decide what your audience wants, and put that into the specifics of an algorithm, a machine could create a piece of art, a song, or even write an article. Effectively, robots will be able to cognitively “think” for themselves and even reach logical conclusions in court as lawyers or judges.
What will this mean for their human colleagues?
You could be forgiven, then, for thinking that robots will soon put us all out of work. However, in reality, new technology creates as many jobs as it eliminates, albeit roles with different focal points. The time consuming grunt-work, that many people hate, will be stripped out of our jobs, leaving us free to put more time into doing what we really enjoy - interacting, creating and leading.
Thousands of roles will be created in the technology sector, with humans needed to create the algorithms controlling these new machines, to maintain and replace the technology, and to design new software to ensure that all the automated systems can work in tandem with each other and their human colleagues. This industrial revolution will be as disruptive as its Victorian predecessor, but similarly it could bring about monumental positive change.
There is no doubt that the working environment of the future will be radically different. Machines will become increasingly sophisticated, and will do more and more complex tasks. However, the change will be gradual, and it will take time for all the automated systems and their human colleagues to be working optimally, allowing for some personalisation and adaption of the AI technology as well as training to ensure the human team know how and when to best use these systems.
Upskilling and re-training the workforce will help them embrace this change, and see the machines as facilitating integration and data control in their office, rather than being an inconvenient extra layer of processing. While AI is very capable of receiving and organising statistics, human intelligence is still needed to interpret this data, and turn it into a meaningful action for your business.
Prepare for the Change
The robots are coming. It is time we prepare to meet the change with open arms, and accept that while some jobs will be taken over, many more will be created.
In the short term, this change will be difficult to adjust to, with such an extraordinary shift in our working lives being disruptive, to say the least. However, our automated working future is exciting, and could improve our work-life balance. AI machines will be able to do the work that you hate, and you will be able to attend meetings without having to organise them, and find files which have been automatically stored and labelled correctly.
As AI systems become increasingly integrated into our lives, we will notice them less, and be able to enjoy ‘smart homes’ and offices, with automated machines working in together quietly in the background of our working environment.
Businesses will be able to do more for less money, because they won’t have to pay robotic employees, give them holiday, or restrict them to working eight-hour-days. This new future will require better technology key skills in the workplace, but with a little training and careful implementation, businesses will become more efficient, integrated and cost-effective.