Future of Work

Artificial Intelligence presents an opportunity not a threat (Part 1)

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Introducing the disruptor

Technology is seen as the most radical driver of change, from artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to digital mobility and virtual collaboration  – yet other trends could be just as decisive. The lines between our work  and personal lives are shifting. Diversity and demands for equality are also  reshaping the workplace. We are living longer, which means we will be asked to master more and different skills over time as the nature of work changes. And social and environmental pressures are creating demands  for more flexible working conditions, as is the gig economy.

Top executives increasingly worry about the impact that their companies, strategies and activities will have on the environment, local communities and their employees — and how they balance this with cost and market pressures and quarterly earnings targets. Against this background, one somewhat intractable challenge is beginning to stand out: the size and composition of the workforce. Automation, primarily in the form of robotics and artificial intelligence, brings with it the promise of improved productivity and higher profits — but at what cost to employment and, by extension, to society?

AI is fast becoming part of our everyday life

Artificial intelligence might conjure images of a robotic Haley Joel Osment in Spielberg’s film AI, or it may make you think of Data from Star Trek. Yet the impact of artificial intelligence in everyday life is more understated and far-reaching than science fiction might suggest.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to offer $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. You already encounter it every day. Think of all those times Amazon recommended a book to you or Netflix suggested a film or TV show. Those recommendations are based on algorithms that examine what you’ve bought or watched. The algorithms learn from those purchases, using them to suggest other things you might enjoy. Artificial intelligence lies behind those algorithms. Simple artificial intelligence even filters your incoming emails, diverting spam away from your inbox. It works better than software rules because it learns what could be spam based on the content of the email.

Jobs landscape in 2020

As work becomes more information-based, exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and  the internet of things can be leveraged to execute tasks with greater accuracy and productivity. Advancements in  cognitive automation are creating significant opportunities for productivity gains and innovation in the technology  enterprise. Three shifts are underway in the technology industry:

Unbundling work from jobs

The technology workplace is leading through disruption with the adoption of cognitive automation.  Tasks of lower complexity and those requiring narrow application of expertise are beginning to get  automated, redefining roles and jobs. Jobs are no longer the organizing unit for work; rather, there  is a redistribution of tasks between humans and machines, depending on who is best suited to do  the work — human, machine or a combination of the two. Increasing complexity associated with  data processing, especially against the backdrop of data explosion, has further fueled adoption of  artificial intelligence in the technology workplace. Several technology organizations have also begun  leveraging technology to solve organizational scale challenges and address talent gaps.

New work, new skills

As the nature of human work changes in the emerging technological context, a new workforce is  set to emerge. Conventional expectations from jobs and careers will shift as the human workforce  adjusts to the future state. A new breed of jobs, requiring multiple, diverse skills, will replace current  roles and jobs to some degree. Several jobs in high demand today — cybersecurity experts, data  scientists, cloud architects and AI engineers, among others — did not exist 10 years ago, or lacked  the prominence they enjoy today. With the rise of new technologies, we will see the emergence of  new roles associated with the design, development and maintenance of new technologies, such as  robotics engineer, virtual reality machinist and more. The technology talent model of the future will  be shaped by the evolution of technologies and their adoption paths in organizations.

Higher cognitive complexity of human work

With the rise of intelligent automation, there is no doubt that the human workforce of the future  will execute tasks requiring higher cognitive and emotive complexity, and activities requiring  the application of general intelligence. For example, AI is already outpacing humans on certain  knowledge-based tasks related to recommendations and image recognition — consider the impact  on radiologists and pathologists reviewing X-rays or MRIs or the ability of a smart system application  to monitor thousands of computers at once and perform repairs autonomously. Although advanced  technologies may not necessarily replace human workers in all cases, they will undoubtedly make the  human workforce more productive and help apply their expertise more judiciously. Read more here

Artificial Intelligence presents an opportunity not a threat!

The rate and pace of technology innovation is creating a skills gap that will impact product purchase, usage, adoption and extension. By 2022, no less than 54% of  all employees will require significant reskilling and/or upskilling.  Of these, about 35% are expected to require additional  training of up to six months, 9% will require reskilling  lasting six to 12 months, while 10% will require  additional skills training of more than a year. Skills continuing to grow in prominence by 2022 include  analytical thinking and innovation as well as active  learning and learning strategies.

All these profound transformations create an imperative for upskilling the workforce and providing targeted reskilling opportunities to those whose jobs will be highly disrupted by automation and other technologies.  Workforce Development  is an opportunitybuilding a skill base and winning mindshare. It’s an opportunity to democratize the labor market and uplift the people who have been left behind.

The messages for leaders – Act now , empower your people now. This isn’t about some ‘far future’ of work – change is  already happening, and accelerating.

Preparing for the future of work is everyone’s job … 3 steps to create ‘future ready’ talent

  1. Create a workforce strategy
  2. Develop a culture of lifelong learning
  3. Map job transition opportunities

Stay tuned for the next article in the series where I will cover the strategies in detail and some of the programs that IBM has in place to support the development of talent both inside of IBM and for the society at large.

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