AI & Automation Won’t Kill Work


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Drudgery, however, is about to be wiped out

By Mousa Ackall, VP of Brand Marketing, WorkMarket

The hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and automation is alive and well. It’s hard to browse your Twitter feed or peruse the web without seeing something about autonomous vehicles, AI powered thingamajigs, or the impending robot apocalypse.

Not to discount the advancements we’ve made over the last 2 decades (you know…things like the Internet and the iPhone) but today we stand on the cusp of another extraordinary period in human history. The World Economic Forum has taken to calling it the Fourth Industrial revolution:

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

No big deal, right?

The rise of sophisticated algorithms, intelligent automation and cognitive technologies — such as machine learning and AI — are radically altering the trajectory of consumer behavior, industrial economies, and global labor markets.

We know things are changing. We can feel it. New apps and gadgets are actively changing how we live, how we shop, how we play. And very soon, they’re going to change how we work. But how exactly? How quickly can we expect to see change? What are the pros and cons of an “automated workplace?” Will AI really make ours jobs easier? Will automation make us more engaged and productive?

While many publications and pundits engage in wild, rampant speculation about the impact of AI and automation on work, we decided to take it a step further. We wanted real answers to these questions. We wanted to understand what the impact of these technologies would mean for real businesses. Real people.

To that end, we decided to partner with one of the most respected voices on this topic. Arun Sundararajan is a Professor at New York University’s (NYU) Stern School of Business and a recognized authority on the on-demand economy. He’s the author of the recently released book “The Sharing Economy,” and has published op-eds and commentary in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and The Financial Times.

Together we commissioned the 2020 In(Sight) Report which was designed to measure the viewpoints and behaviors of several hundred business leaders and employees from four key industries: media/publishing, financial services/insurance, telecom/IT, and corporate retail. The results of the newly released report, provide a fascinating look at the impact of AI and automation on corporate productivity, worker engagement and the future of work.

Automation & Productivity: Connecting The Dots

According to the data, an overwhelming majority of respondents believe that automation has real value in the workplace, and could save them hundreds of hours a year. Business leaders and employees are in near-violent agreement: 90% believe there there are advantages to automating tasks at their organization, particularly a reduction in manual errors (48%), an increase in the speed at which tasks are completed (42%) and better quality work product (38%).

One of the more interesting findings from the research was the volume of time both business leaders and employees believe they could save through task automation. Fifty-three percent of employees believe they could save up to two hours a day by automating tasks, which comes out to approximately 20 hours a month and 240 hours a year. Alternatively, 78% of business leaders believe they could save up to three hours a day, which is roughly 30 hours a month and 360 hours a year. Let that sink in for a second.

And, in case you’re not an economics nerd, let me remind you that the U.S. economy is in a bit of a productivity slump. As in one of the biggest dips since 1979. John Fernald, a senior research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, fears what a continued slowdown in productivity growth could mean for the economy. Fernald’s research found that the technology boom of the 1990s helped businesses become more efficient until about 2003, and then began to fade.

Fortunately, automation will continue a historical trend of boosting productivity at a time when productivity growth has been seen as lackluster. An introduction of task automation through robotics, AI, and machine learning, however, could change all of that. According to a recent McKinsey study, we would see productivity growth of 0.8% in 2015 jump to 1.4% in 2065. Considering productivity growth from 1995–2005, as a result of IT advancements (read: the internet) was 0.6%, imagine the possibilities work automation could have on U.S. labor markets and the global economy.

Debunking The Robopocalypse Once and For All

The idea that there’s no place for human workers in our autonomous future has made for some splashy headlines. We can all breathe a sigh of relief, because that is pure fantasy. According to our research, only 3% of workers and 6% of business leaders believe their roles can be completely automated.

Rather, automation will be used to automate certain tasks within a job that are considered repetitive, mundane and non-core. 74% of business leaders and employees believe that at least parts of their job could be automated. Moreover, automation in its various forms will continue to do what it has always done: free human workers to take on bigger and more complex challenges. For example, 41% of workers say they would spend the hours saved through automation perfecting other work projects.

By allowing technology to automate mundane and repetitive tasks, workers would then be freed to focus on tasks that are not easily replicated by automation such as decision making, creative tasks, and managing others. Automating the more routine activities will help businesses operate better, faster and cheaper.

When people hear about the possibility of digital assistants, chatbots, and the like becoming commonplace at work, it’s easy to understand why some worry that the future will be a cold and synthetic place. However, our research found automation will actually make work a more inviting place for humans.

Automation will save workers from the hours of busy work that force them to sacrifice valuable family time, physical activity and lunch breaks. Automation will also help businesses do a better job allocating work, so the right people work on projects they have the expertise and passion for. Tomorrow’s workers will enjoy more flexibility and a more sustainable work-life balance.

Remember, the Fourth Industrial revolution is upon us.

In this world, workers and machines will collaborate seamlessly in the cloud, without the friction and busywork that has made work so unpleasant for so long. Workers will be able to focus on their core tasks and have the flexibility to spend less time on commuting and paperwork, and more time with their families.

In short, the age of automation won’t just be more productive. It will also be more human.

To read the full report, 2020 In(Sight): What AI & Automation Really Mean For Work, click here.

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