Shifting human work to machine is nothing new, nor is it something so vastly complex that it’s reserved only for the likes of multi-billion dollar operations. One needs only take notice at the interactions of their everyday life to realize how much artificial intelligence has become an integral part of our society. In fact, if you’ve ever used the self-checkout at your local grocery store or deposited a check at the ATM, you’ve leveraged automation technology.
So, what does this mean in terms of business? Specifically, how does automation impact the modern workplace? From a strictly benefits standpoint, automation is revolutionizing the way work is performed and providing advantages to organizations of every size and across every industry. Not only can AI boost productivity and eliminate human error, but it can also dramatically cut costs and provide the key to competitive advantage.
From a personnel perspective, automation is not necessarily something that will replace entire occupations, but rather the tool needed to streamline and improve workflow for human employees. Management must therefore focus on redefining roles and processes so that the two – automation technology and human workers – can complement one another.
To gain a deeper understanding of the role automation can and ultimately will play in the workplace of tomorrow, let’s take a look at three fundamentals of function below.
Automated Human Activities
Much of the conversation around workplace automation centers on the automation of simple, mundane and “codeable” tasks and workflows. While this is certainly a significant benefit, particularly in the field of IT, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology have virtually blown the doors off this concept. In one study conducted by McKinsey & Company, nearly half (45 percent) of all work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology.
In fact, in many cases, automation technology is already capable of matching, or even exceeding, the median level of human performance. This includes such intuitive activities as planning, coordinating and decision-making tasks.
Evolution of Roles and Processes
Very few occupations could be completely automated. More than half, on the other hand, could potentially see a significant portion of their daily duties and activities automated. What this means is that although artificial intelligence is not yet capable of replacing humans entirely, automation will most certainly begin to – at least to some degree – change the vast majority of occupations. To accommodate these changes, a redefinition of roles and subsequent adaptation of businesses process will be necessary.
Thankfully, this is actually good news for many because while automation may eliminate some of a human worker’s task load, it will simultaneously free them up to focus their skills and intellect elsewhere. In other words, job descriptions and their duties will inevitably evolve. At the same time, however, new and innovative job opportunities as they relate to managing AI will begin to emerge.
A More Universal Impact
Logic dictates that the lower-wage, less skill-based jobs will be the first to be displaced by automation. In reality, particularly due to the incredible advances in AI technology and machine learning, it’s becoming clear that even those who hold high-level, high-wage occupations will not be immune to the impacts of automation. In fact, to some degree, there may actually be a fundamental shift.
Take, for instance, the role of a corporate CEO. A big part of his or her job duties – and one of the reasons for his or her hefty salary – is the ability to analyze data and make critical business decisions. Trends indicate that a good portion of this level job could be automated using intuitive technology, including analysis, reporting and decision making. As such, the high value placed on such a senior level position may begin to wane.
Conversely, those who hold jobs in certain fields such as home health aides, maintenance workers and landscapers – fields that have tasks that cannot easily be automated – may actually be viewed as more valuable in the future, and therefore paid more handsomely for their skills.
Ultimately, time will tell just how much of an impact advanced automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence technology will have on the future of work. One thing is for certain, though. Its adoption is inevitable. The best way to prepare your organization is to stay a step ahead by embracing the tools that are currently available to you.