Robot and I: Future of the Workforce

Will robots and machines become part of our day to day lives in the near future? Working in homes, factories and offices to do both routine and extraordinary tasks? If so, will this mean we are endangering our own opportunities to work and be gainfully employed or are we encouraging the human workforce to evolve beyond its current capabilities and hone skills and expertise in new areas?

It’s my belief that as we see certain tasks being made redundant by robots, and new work for humans being created as intelligent technology scales, there are still some skills which are uniquely human. For example, there will be a significant need for “human” skills such as finding and solving unknown problems, building empathy with end users, communication and mentoring, which are uniquely human competencies. Roles where empathy and personal interaction that enrich the relationship and the experience, such as teaching or nursing, will likely need human beings, even if they can be performed by robots. In addition, innovation is another domain that is the prerogative of the human mind for we are ‘programmed’ to be curious and find new problems to solve.

While businesses are buoyed by the possibilities of AI to provide deep insights, automate tasks and empower humans, Infosys, as an organization engaged in developing AI and automation capabilities, wanted to understand more deeply about what today’s business leaders thought of the challenges posed by AI. Our Infosys research report “Leadership in the Age of AI” is an attempt to answer some of the questions raised and the findings give us some clear views as to how today’s leaders are approaching the disruption and opportunity of AI.

Whilst 61 percent of respondents said that in the next 5 years IT jobs were most at risk, followed by marketing and communications (32 percent), human resources (29 percent) and legal (15 percent) roles, at the same time the research found that the AI opportunity was creating huge demand for related jobs, so much so that 95 percent of IT leaders said they planned to hire teams of AI professionals.
- Infosys research report “Leadership in the Age of AI”

Enterprises clearly have a challenge on their hands in managing the scale of change in their workforce. Both in terms of embracing intelligent technologies across their organizational functions, as well as ensuring their workforce is fit for the future. We believe they need to focus on two areas to maximize the advantages of AI in the workplace:

  1. Building employee skills:
  2. Before hiring new employees to acquire the capabilities required for accelerating AI, organizations should exploit their existing talent resources, filling any skill gaps with retraining and redeployment initiatives. The survey shows that about half of all organizations recognize the importance of doing this: 53 percent reported increasing training for those impacted the most by AI, and 50 percent said they were redeploying employees in new functional areas.

    Here, the key is to establish a culture of lifelong learning, where knowledge about AI is acquired not only through one-off training events, but continually as part of ‘on the job’ learning. Organizations that will be most successful in infusing AI into the workforce will be those that provide their talent ample opportunity to work alongside robots and other digital technologies.

    Since classroom training is not always possible, or viable, enterprises can participate in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). A good example of industry leaders taking an initiative to solve the problem of job displacement and skills gaps caused by the Fourth Industrial revolution is the SkillSET program created by the World Economic Forum in partnership with major technology companies, including Infosys. SkillSET is committed to reaching one million people with resources and training opportunities by January 2021 across technical as well as business-oriented skills such as project management, customer management and skills specific to the products of the participating companies.

    Companies can also tie up with educational institutions to reskill and retrain employees in the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Robotic Process Automation. Within Infosys, we are creating the opportunities for lifelong learning through several partnerships, one of them with Udacity for a program to train engineers in autonomous technologies.

  3. Ensuring leadership commitment:
  4. Cultural transformation is never easy, and is impossible without the involvement of senior leadership. Leaders should not only secure the organization’s commitment to training staff but also consider being trained on AI technologies themselves to help develop best practices that will ensure that the economical and ethical impact of these new technologies are appropriate across the organization and in society as a whole.

    Business leaders should collaborate across functions and indeed across organizations to define how to approach the embrace of AI-rich technologies and how to create standards that are both ethical and inclusive. This panel discussion by business leaders talks about the future of AI in the workforce and tries to answer questions around ethics and AI.

    Infosys research found that half of the participating organizations had identified investment in training in artificial intelligence as a top priority, and the same proportion of leaders said that leadership training was a necessity.

    As we explore the frontiers of human empathy and innovation that evermore intelligent technologies afford us, leaders should stay focussed on the short term need for the human workforce to continue to maintain and improve machines, allocate work to robots and overseeing their AI ‘co-workers’, at least for the foreseeable future.