By: Dr (Col) John Chenetra, President, SecUR Credentials

Advancements in technology in recent years have brought about machines at workplaces, which are capable of carrying out highly technical functions, both efficiently and effectively. To this extent, most peoples’ views on the increasing role of machines and artificial intelligence in the workplace are largely sceptical if not entirely negative. This rather pessimistic attitude towards technology, while certainly exaggerated by science fiction movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator, and Minority Report, are not without at least some degree of truth. While hordes of self-aware robots hunting down the remnants of humanity is still a rather far-fetched idea, losing one’s job to a machine is a very real possibility. While in the past the jobs that were at risk from being phased out by machines were blue-collar factory positions and those requiring considerable physical work, the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has put even professions requiring extensive knowledge and skill in the crosshairs.

The last few years have seen the development of AI that could if implemented, render the vast majority of roles performed by personal assistants, lawyers, coders, and even copywriters obsolete. While these systems are still purely experimental, it’s only a matter of time before they’re unleashed upon the world. It would seem that nobody is safe, and everybody is replaceable. All anyone can do is wait, while the machines replace us one by one. Only, that’s not going to happen.

If we look to the past, the advent of personal computers entering the workspace in the 1990s left many people with the existential dread of being replaced by machines. That never happened. The role of humans merely changed from executing their tasks to operating a computer, which would execute their assigned work more quickly, accurately, and easily. The AI revolution of the 2020s will be no different; the jobs aren’t going anywhere, they are just changing.

While the general public is pessimistic about the role AI will play in the workplace of the future, many in the tech world are confident. Machines will never replace humans, they will simply take over mundane, repetitive tasks, and leave creative or communicative work to human beings who are much more suited to these roles. Before AI eventually revolutionises the workplace in the next few years, organisations will need to set up protocols that manage the balance between human beings and automation in their company. Here are some factors to consider when determining the role AI will play:

Nature Of The Task

While artificial intelligence is excellent at executing repetitive tasks, it has a long way to go before it can even come close to competing with humans in matters requiring creative inputs. For this purpose, jobs that require routine work like clerical and administrative roles can be easily be handed over to machines, leaving roles that require creativity to human beings such as writing, design, and music. One movie, in particular, i.e. Up in the Air delved quite briefly on the importance of the human element when dealing with other human beings. In the film, George Clooney is a corporate downsizer, a job which by itself seems largely automatable; which is what Anna Kendrick is brought on to do. But even as the duo goes from city to city literally firing people, they realise that their job is still very much about human beings and if not handled delicately, in a manner a machine could never even begin to comprehend, the consequences can be disastrous.

Nature Of The Industry

The balance between automation and people in a company will depend largely on the kind of industry the organisation is involved in. If the company deals directly with consumers i.e. B2C, in an industry where their satisfaction is a priority, it will require a strong team of customer service representatives.

In this regard, AI and machines will be largely ineffective because they lack the emotional intelligence required to deal with human beings, and pick up on the nuances of real-life conversations. That being said, statistically speaking, the vast majority of interactions between customers and the company will be predictable and hence programmable, meaning AI will be able to effectively interact with customers at a basic level before handing over more delicate matters to human representatives. Developing AI to deal with such roles would, therefore, be economical to such businesses in the long run.

In B2B setups, however, the nature of complaints tend to be significantly more complicated and nuanced, and the number customers small, this means humans will continue to play a key role in such interactions. Developing AI to deal with such roles would, therefore, bot be economical or practical for such businesses.

Goals Of The Company

Human beings and machines are not necessarily competitors, but instead, a means to an end: which is achieving the company’s goals. This will involve a significant amount of interaction and collaboration between the two, and will thus require specialised training on the part of the human operator, and user-friendliness and efficiency on the part of the machine. A skilled human operator with an effective machine at his command will be the ultimate asset for furthering the company’s objectives, whereas individually, both would be limited. This synergy- a marriage between man and machine will be the driving force of the workspace of the future.

The introduction of AI into the workplace will not plunge the world into a situation where employees are subservient to the machines, on the contrary, the new systems will bring a host of benefits, both to employers and employees alike. Here are just some of the advantages the introduction of automation will bring:

Job Satisfaction

With AI taking up routine tasks, humans will be pushed to more stimulating, and creative roles, increasing job satisfaction considerably.

Skill Development

With AI taking up roles of a technical nature, human beings will be free to take up tasks that require creativity, leadership, communication, and empathy, thereby developing their prowess with these valuable soft skills.

Flexible Working Hours

Automation will create more flexible working patterns and allow organisations a focus on higher-value tasks.

Transparency

AI and automation will make a significant impact in human resources. Intelligent systems can be used to support activities such as hiring and recruiting employees, writing performance reviews and setting compensation policies, in a fair, transparent manner.

Performance Reviews

AI will allow employers to gauge the productivity, growth, and development of employees and reward those who display proficiency and dedication with increased compensation and promotions, in a highly accurate and fair manner.

Those who fear the rise of automation have no reason for trepidation, these new systems will only change the job market, not destroy it. As always, creativity, excellence, hard work, and dedication will continue to be rewarded, and these are attributes that only human beings can possess.