Could a robot take my job? It isn’t a new question—but as AI and robotics continue to push the limits of possibility, the tension around the topic has grown (at Silicon Valley Forum, we’ve organized several events around it). Workplace technology is evolving at a breakneck speed; as AI and machine learning, IoT, robotics, VR, and automation continue to grow, the future looks bright but uncertain for employers and employees alike—the thriving companies of the future will need to begin preparing now in order to stay ahead.
At our December 6th event Tomorrow’s Workforce: Leading Through Disruption, our expert panelists led us through the current landscape, providing invaluable insights on next steps and best practices to survive, thrive, and take your organization to the next level.
Each of our panelists—Andra Keay of Silicon Valley Robotics, Iba Masood of TARA.AI, Tauseef Rahman of Mercer, Inhi Cho Suh of IBM, and Kelley Steven-Waiss of Here Technologies, with Mercer’s Sheela Sukumaran moderating—offered a unique perspective from the ground floor of the oncoming shift, and gave the audience invaluable insights into the future of meaningful work. Below are some of the key points covered (and these are just a few!)
Robots will take over tasks—not jobs. Our panelists agreed that saying “the jobs are being replaced” is an oversimplification—the work itself will be re-distributed. Machines can learn, but it takes a human to specialize—specifically, humans can form nuanced judgments and conclusions that can’t be duplicated by any known AI solution. Inhi Cho Suh mentioned that in the enterprise world, data, AI and machine learning solutions are adapted to augment specialized roles, in order to provide an improved experience (this could especially impact healthcare). It takes an expert—a human expert—to apply the collected data in a meaningful way.
Iba Masood also pointed out that the online, on-demand workforce could mean more opportunities for women, people of color, and rural communities. “They all speak one language: code.” A universal language could break down cultural barriers.
The change is here, but we’re still getting the kinks out. The workplace of the future will need to be omnidirectionally inclusive: across generations and across technologies. The panelists also discussed inherent bias in algorithms—because English is inherently sexist, so too are algorithms—and data scientists of the future will need to de-bias their data sets.
Andra Keay emphasized a strong need for ethical standards in robotics and AI—especially as the technology itself becomes easier and more accessible (and therefore more susceptible to carelessness).
Tech needs us as much as we need it—or rather, technology should be built with its users in mind. As Tauseef Rahman pointed out, two things are key when implementing AI: your plan must be humanistic and realistic. Employers switching to next-gen technology need to manage the change in a humanistic way, so even cautious users actually take to it, with realistic expectations of the outcome. If you are getting ready for upgrades, make sure to share with your employees that you’re not implementing technologies to replace their jobs, but to augment their roles and help them make better decisions.
So how do employers introduce this to their workforce? How can you strategize to help your organization adapt to an upswing in technology, while implementing change at a rate that will allow your employees to adapt? The panelists offered the following advice:
- Empower your workforce with the right knowledge to embrace rapid change.
- If you’re struggling with how to get started, select a specific use case in your company that makes sense and start there, rather than trying to change everything at once.
- Start with a simple question: do we really need to do it this way? Begin with a process or task that can easily absorb change. Think about how things can be done better and experiment if it works or not will help your company embrace the change in talent and workforce.
- Stay on top of your data—remember, garbage in, garbage out. Build on the right platform from the get-go.
- Have a clear vision. Start even with a small vision—but a clear one.
Kelley Steven-Waiss summed the evening up thusly: “The IQ of the future is flexibility—the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The same must be said about the future of our workforce.
Author: Micaela Youmans,
Director of Operations