How could robots & AI impact the workplace?

OPINION / 30th August 2016

I recently attended an interesting BIMA breakfast seminar called The Robots are Coming. In it a panel of practitioners explored the future of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) and the impact for the digital industries.  A recurring theme was how this would impact the workplace and models of business. 

There are more people in work now in the UK than at any time since records began.  Vacancies continue to rise, and for employers it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the talent they need to compete.  Recruitment marketers and resourcing professionals are already facing difficult challenges. 
Quality candidates are difficult to attract and recruit with all the various devices,
people and places they use to make decisions. 

Will the adoption of robots and AI in the workplace help or hinder you?

Context and definition

Let’s start with what we mean by robots and artificial intelligence, as my first reaction is to think of a metal, living thing that acts and thinks like a human.  Whilst such images are common, they are just part of the picture. It is the ‘brain’ of the robot that has the most utility  - its artificial intelligence.  

The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence.

You will see artificial intelligence in many forms, in both our personal and professional lives. For example, Cortana and Siri the increasingly helpful bots that live in your phones are forms of artificial intelligence. 

Here at ORM one of the many things we do is help clients build great websites. Artificial intelligence is also starting to enter this field too. With technology like The Grid harnessing its power to automatically shape a custom website unique to you, you can’t help but look on with both intrigue and mild concern. Experts have mixed opinions about how the seemingly inevitable robotisation of jobs will impact the workplace and employment levels.

The case for concern

Data in the US suggests that technology already destroys more jobs than it creates. Experts predict robots will take over 30% of our jobs by 2025.

Oxford University researchers have ranked the occupations most in danger of being replaced by computers and robots, including telemarketers, insurance
underwriters and watch repairers. Voices as esteemed as Steven Hawking and Jaron Lanier have voiced concerns about underestimating risk and economic inequality.

The case for confidence

In 2014 Pew Research reported that 52% of experts in AI and robotics were optimistic about the future and believed there would still be enough jobs in the next few decades. 
Microsoft’s Jonathan Grudin told researchers that: “Technology will continue to disrupt jobs, but more jobs seem likely to be created.” 

Some reports say that we will not feel the impact anytime soon as fully automating jobs takes time and businesses need to make organisational changes. In fact they argue that it could increase employment and productivity. For example, the expansion of ATM machines in banks it actually increased transactions and employment, as it gave cashiers time to do tasks where human interaction is important, such as customer service. 

The balanced view

History suggests that whenever we feel an oncoming shift in industry there is a natural resistance and concern. Fears of technology driving unemployment go back to the industrial revolution. The difference now is that it will impact ‘white-collar’ jobs in occupations such as travel agents, data analysts and paralegals. Further, based on principles such as Moore’s law, it may well happen a lot quicker than before.

However, whilst artificial intelligence is improving rapidly and getting sophisticated at mimicking (even bettering) human intelligence, it will always be difficult to be human if you are not human. Traits such as empathy, creativity and being able to read body language will always be hard to program.

For example, in June 2014 an AI computer program named ‘Eugene Goostman’ convinced 33% of a judging panel that it was human through an exchange of questions and answers via text. However, ‘Eugene’ was an Ukranian 13-year-old boy that didn’t speak native English.

So what does the future hold?

For recruiters:

This next era could present a need for jobs that don’t exist yet; combining disciplines and cultures in order to deliver what businesses require. And who knows you could actually use artificial intelligence to predictively model and succession plan what those jobs actually are. To develop talent before demand outweighs supply.

For marketers:

As a marketer we may find ourselves in an interesting position where we have to think as B2B2C  (business to bot to consumer) communicators. With a focus on how we engage with bots to ensure that when a consumer gives an audio request, your brand and is found and preferred by bots. It is estimated that in five years time at least 50% of all searches are going to be through either images or speech. It may well be that where you have SEO specialists and agencies now you have BEO specialists in the future.

In many
ways it is the combination of inevitable, unknown and speculation that makes what I do so exciting!

References 

Internet Trends 2016 – Code Conference, Mary Meeker June 1, 2016 

Digital dividends – World development report 2016

Ons.gov.uk, labour market statistics, February 2016

Jason Bell Jason Bell Solution Consulting Director Jason Bell