Human Games:  Can We Beat the Bots?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are reshaping the workplace and the economy.  Can humans successfully compete?

As the worldview envisioned by futurists and science fiction writers in the 1950’s and 60’s takes shape, a global economy still shaken by the Great Recession is riding the rails straight into what some call the “Second Machine Age” or “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Second, fourth, however you count it—the real question is whether meaningful human employment is poised to come in last.

Earlier, we discussed news on the future of work presented at the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland in January.  Coupled with recent technological development, findings from that forum may sow the seeds of the means by which man—and woman—can beat the odds when a machine comes for your job.

What machines can—and cannot—do

With automation in mind, many people imagine machine-packed factory floors tended by a fraction of the people once needed to manufacture a product.  But machines excel with brains—as well as brawn.

Human resource personnel already understand the value of automation.  Among other types of HR software, ATS are indispensable for recruiting, managing candidates, onboarding, and monitoring compliance.

Continued development of SaaS and other solutions increases the efficiency of HR—and decreases the need for a fully staffed HR department.  Some studies suggest algorithms make better hiring decisions than humans.

While the 2016 Economic Report of the President suggests that jobs paying less than $20 per hour are at higher risk for automation than positions that pay $40 per hour and up—wage is not a true indicator of which work goes away first.  Here’s why.

At present, jobs and work tasks that are highly repetitive or reducible to defined parameters are candidates for replacement by automation.  While this includes the factory, and the check-out lane, it also means humans will take a backseat to machines as driverless cars, airplanes, trains, and trucks, go mainstream.

Other impacts of automated reinvention include:

  • Healthcare: Biomedical engineering holds real promise for reducing healthcare costs, while improving patient care.  Disruptive technologies offer consumers and medical practitioners the means to diagnose, monitor, and even treat conditions and illnesses that formerly required intensive human intervention.  A basic tenet of diagnosis is pattern recognition—an attribute at which machines excel.  From diagnosis, to testing and treatment options, tech is changing the healthcare ecosystem.
  • Business: From the C-suite down, artificial intelligence and machine learning are already putting analysts and other intelligence providers out of work.  A McKinsey report opines that approximately 45 percent of tasks performed by individuals in the United States can be performed by some form of technology.  The same report notes “we discovered that even the highest paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated.”
  • Computing: Combine the Cloud with AI and the art of rainmaking takes on a whole new dimension.  Big Data and machine learning will create literally unimagined services, products, and business opportunity.
  • Agriculture: The world needs to eat.  Since humans settled down and invented the shovel, technology has aided farmers.  Drone technology offers air support as farmers and ranchers gain the capability to monitor crops, land, and cows from a distance.  In the future, farm machinery will plant, weed, and tend fields.  Tractors and harvesters are likely to be driverless—or allow an onboard human to tend to other digitally-oriented tasks.

It’s a brave new world.  Besides creating the technology to replace ourselves, how do humans fit into the picture?

If you choose not to buy into a dystopian future, deep machine learning and automation will create a landscape we cannot yet imagine.  Improved health, better use of resources, and environment-saving technologies could all be part of it.  The future of human work likely falls into the realm of what we can do better than machines.

According to the authors of the McKinsey piece, “Capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and also difficult to automate.”

A summary of the WEF Future of Jobs report states by 2020, “Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. “

Yet another WEF forum states, “Emotional intelligence, which doesn’t feature in the top 10 (skills) today, will become one of the top skills needed by all.”

Humans can thrive along with robots, if we can beat them at their own game—being human.  Read more about it in our next blog.

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  1. […] talked earlier about innovations in AI that will certainly displace jobs.  In October, a report from the […]

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