When we imagine artificial intelligence, it often brings up movie-driven fears about robots and machines taking over — think HAL, Skynet or even WALL-E. But the reality is that these fears are largely overblown and result from a misunderstanding of what current AI technology can — and can’t — do.
There are two types of AI, and the problem is that people tend to conflate them. The first — general artificial intelligence (GAI) — means that machinery is capable of human-level cognition, including general problem-solving capability that is potentially self-directed and broadly applicable to many kinds of problems. In movie terms again, this would be C-3PO or the Terminator. The most important feature of GAI is that it doesn’t currently exist, and there’s a deep debate about its potential to ever exist.
The second type is referred to as narrow AI. Narrow AI is task-specific and non-generalizable. Examples include facial recognition on Apple’s iPhone X and speech-to-text transliteration by Amazon’s Alexa. Narrow AI looks and feels a lot like software or, perhaps, predictive models.
It’s narrow AI that is transforming our society and workforce. Narrow AI is machine learning; it’s not machines replacing us.
For employers, understanding how AI will shape workforce planning today and in the future is critical to staying ahead of the curve. Here’s what employers need to know about how AI will transform workforce management.
Facing Our Fears
AI won’t eliminate the need for humans. Work will always require people. Just as the industrial revolutions of the past transformed industries but didn’t eliminate the need for humans in the world of work, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the landscape of work in ways that we can’t fully anticipate.
But what we can be certain of is that while these changes will certainly eliminate many routine tasks that have been part of our work life, they will also create jobs in new areas generated by rapid advances in economic and technological growth. According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2018, while 75 million jobs are projected to be displaced by 2022 due to AI,133 million new jobs will be created.
To succeed in this era of rapid change, business leaders must adjust their focus and consider how to best leverage both the technology and the human being — rather than thinking that one will replace the other. In other words, your company’s long-term sustainability isn’t an either-or choice between mastering a workforce plan and mastering a technological innovation. AI is not going to eliminate the need for people, but their tasks will change as they adapt to their new roles and responsibilities.
Envisioning Augmentation and Automation
When we think of AI, we often imagine fully automated societies where robots and computers replace humans. But the future of AI doesn’t just involve automating work — it also includes augmenting it. AI offers us the ability to not just do old things faster but to make work better, to do new things that couldn’t have been done in the past. The fact is that an AI working in conjunction with a human is actually much more powerful than either one functioning separately. The ability of AI to augment human thinking and decision making will revolutionize the way we experience work.
For many workers this may mean having augmented capabilities and tools that enhance their role, even if their job title doesn’t change. For example, think of hiring managers who use predictive analytics to much more quickly and effectively evaluate candidates, and who can then use some of their freed-up time to create a more robust talent acquisition strategy for the organization.
Predicting Business Needs and Designing Jobs to Meet Them
Job roles are evolving — some are getting automated while others are being augmented with new skills and technologies. The roles that remain will be expected to do even more because they'll have access to more information, including AI-enabled insight into their industry and market segment.
With rapid evolution of the skills and competencies that companies need to compete, predicting future workforce needs is an increasingly difficult task for employers. Companies can use AI and predictive analytics to model different scenarios when it comes to workforce needs, and then design jobs to meet those projections. Algorithms are much better at combining complex data and making predictions than people are. Machine learning and the self-correcting nature of AI mean that these capabilities will only improve in the future, as these AI systems will become more human-like.
AI isn’t Skynet. But it can enable companies to leverage both their human capabilities and their machine ones to create a digitally ready workforce best positioned to compete in a 21st-century marketplace.
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