Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

The Workforce realignment: Moving beyond the AI vs. Humans Conundrum

If the robots take over routine, predictable jobs, will it really be such a bad thing?

It’s been 75 years since Isaac Asimov devised the famous three laws of robotics; a set of founding principles to govern human and machine interaction. Since then, Asimov’s fictional world is finally turning into reality as Artificial Intelligence (AI) gradually becomes essential. This makes many fear a machine takeover in future, with resultant job losses.

So, what do we do next? Do we start rolling back the pace of technology?

That’s not possible or viable. What we need to do is take a deep breath and honestly answer this question. If the robots take over routine, predictable jobs, will it really be such a bad thing? Because, while any technology will be great at logic, humanity is only part logic. The true basis of useful or meaningful work lies in qualities that are still hard to put in algorithms - empathy, creativity, last minute judgments and critical thinking.

For instance, UK based Natwest bank is testing an artificial intelligence-powered “digital human" called Cora that will converse with customers in branches. The idea is that a digital human could provide ‘consistent, accurate answers all the time in a way that humans can’t always do.’ But, the chatbot has limitations in terms of emotional intelligence. For example, Cora wouldn’t be able to appropriately deliver the news regarding rejected loans. This needs empathy. This is where human employees are still needed to maintain customer relationships.

And this is why robots will never replace us – for human empathy cannot be recreated.

Let’s look at it this way — until recently, since machines hadn’t fully evolved, people were still stuck doing mundane work. Senior executives barely had time to do the cognitive and strategic thinking they were hired to do, while customer-facing agents were barely able to juggle their routine administrative tasks while trying to attend to customers. With the onset of AI and automation, it’s now possible for humans to rise above the drudgery and leverage their true potential to tackle more sophisticated tasks, use empathy and reasoning to solve tough challenges posed by customers, or innovate to disrupt the department, process or industry. (Remember, the Industrial Revolution brought about blue-collar jobs.)

The Future of Workforce

Therefore, the current workforce needs to move with the times, and as AI and robotics become mainstream, job roles need to be redefined. And employees understand that. As per a study by Pega, 69 percent of senior executives expect the workforce to eventually encapsulate both human employees and intelligent machines . Humans will use the insights by AI to augment their experiences, build smarter products, and create more business opportunities. They will use empathy, critical thinking and humane values to decide and act. That’s the power of the human-machine combination.

Taking an example of a salesperson; their single most goal is to engender enough trust to close the sale. With the right set of tools, AI can understand what the prospect needs, deliver the right message at the right time, and help forge relationships better. The sales person can now engage with customers across channels and devices – from phone, web, mobile, chat or email — without losing conversational context to create truly seamless experiences. But, an important aspect of this relationship is personalization. And that is not something an algorithm or bot can easily take over. It requires intuition, which is quintessential human.

Simply put, an advancement in technology will lead to advancements in human productivity, free from the constraints of predictable work. Historically, increased productivity correlates with economic growth and job growth, since it leads to new and unforeseen areas of business and thought.

What we need to do right now is prepare for the next phase of human civilization -a hybrid workforce made of both human and machine talent, leading to new but welcome employability frameworks.

Every new revolution is heralded with apprehension. But, as history shows, change is the only constant. We cannot fight the inevitable; we should work to understand it, try and embrace it and eventually control it. The right strategies of today will help the future civilizations of tomorrow.

Suman Reddy is Managing Director at Pegasystems India.

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