On the surface, these concerns appear to have some legitimacy. AI tools are already being used to automate some workflows and undertake repetitive, manual tasks such as account reconciliation and data processing. They are also at work in the medical field where they can spot diseases on scans far more quickly than a human doctor, and on mine sites where they can control trucks, trains and excavators.
However, when you examine the trend more closely, you find that reality is very different. The adoption of AI is not about replacing people, but rather augmenting human capabilities and will provide the opportunity for staff to play more strategic and decision-making roles within an AI-augmented workforce. Think of it as people stepping away from the factory floor and into the foreman’s office.
More strategic roles for humans
Far from being a killer of jobs, AI technologies are well placed to enable business transformation by doing the unglamorous work that humans are not quite comfortable doing, such as processing large amounts of data quickly and accurately. This, in turn, frees human workers to take a more strategic role within their organisation. For this reason, the relationship between humans and AI is actually mutually empowering.
Those people who are focused on the perceived negative impacts of AI deployment like to point to reports such as one prepared by business advisory firm McKinsey. That report suggests that around 30 per cent of global working hours could be automated by 2030.
However, what they fail to understand is that this doesn’t mean those people will be shown the door. They simply will no longer be required to undertake the more repetitive aspects of their current jobs. Freed from this, they will be able to use their reasoning and planning skills to focus on tasks that require a more analytical approach. This may mean the reskilling of some people but is still a very positive outcome.
This new era of working has already started to reshape the job market. In fact, developing and deploying new technologies like AI are expected to generate millions of jobs globally. In the future, this means that growing numbers of people will either switch occupation or learn new skills to support the use of AI technology.
Solving the looming AI skills shortage
One of the biggest challenges that will be faced by organisations as AI tools become more widely deployed is the shortage that exists of skilled AI talent. Roles that did not even exist a few years ago are now needing to be filled to ensure the tools can be deployed and used effectively.
Some people believe it is up to the organisations themselves to reskill staff so they understand the new technologies. Others say individuals should be taking the initiative and making use of a range of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to keep pace and gain the skills they require. Another option being canvassed is for schools and universities to inject AI-related skills into the next generation through changes to the curriculum. It’s clear that the issue has to be resolved and it’s going to take a mix of all these approaches.
When organisations begin to experiment with AI, many are realising that they don’t have the appropriate skills in-house to successfully deploy and manage it. AI technologies will require developing and maintaining new advanced systems, which will call for individuals with knowledge and experience in these new fields.
To fill the current and future demand for AI skills, organisations should create opportunities for their current employees to upskill, allowing them to enter the new classification of workers that will oversee and manage the implementation and use of the new tools. It is only by taking these steps that the workforce will be able to effectively develop the necessary AI skills that can drive enterprises to the next level.
AI is clearly a transformational force that has big implications for organisations of all sizes and in all sectors. By taking the steps required now to ensure they are ready, these organisations will be well placed to take advantage of its significant benefits in the future.
Kalyan Kumar, corporate vice-president and chief technology officer, IT Services, HCL Technologies