Only humans need apply

25th Oct 2016
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The debate rages on. Will Artificial Intelligence replace all of us and make us obsolete? Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have sounded a warning. Are they being pessimistic? There are the optimists who believe that human beings have always been smart enough to find solutions to all such scenarios. When factories started replacing farms as the dominant source of employment, people learned new skills. When computers were introduced, people feared job loss. But look at us now. We cannot live without them. Humans will always be smarter than machines. Are they being naïve?

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Consider how automation is progressing in leaps and bounds. In the data centres of IT organisations, an engineer can manage 500 servers. At Facebook, the degree of automation is astonishing. One engineer manages 25,000 servers. In May 2016, Foxconn replaced 60,000 workers with robots. Bringing down their employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000. Tech companies in the United States have shed about 63,000 jobs, this year alone. Millions of educated knowledge workers—writers, paralegals, assistants, medical technicians—are threatened by accelerating advances in artificial intelligence. Shall we give up the race with machines?

Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby ‑ Authors of the book Only Humans Need Apply ‑ say that humans plus machines is a winning combination. Humans have to learn to augment their jobs and reimagine the possibilities. They suggest five ways of reinventing your job in a tech-rich world.

  1. Step up: Develop big picture insights and patterns in data. Build the ability to plan and solve systemic issues. This needs people who enjoy connecting dots that people find hard.
  2. Stepping aside: Facilitate user group and make them independent users. Foster in them the desire to learn the new technology and creating a learning culture. This is what the corporate Learning and Development (L&D) teams should be doing.
  3. Step in: As new technology emerges, being able to think of new use cases can make you a great asset. Being able to use games like Kinect to help patients in physiotherapy is a great example of this.
  4. Stepping narrowly: A teacher who is working with disabled children, or teaching people who are not fluent in the language of the majority are “stepping narrowly”. Making the technology accessible to fringe groups can be a great employment possibility.
  5. Stepping forward: People who are working with the startups and disruptors are stepping forward. So a banker who works with fintech firms or a teacher working with edtech is augmenting their skills with technology to explore new possibilities.

The framework is easy to understand. The five approaches can help us rethink any job and any level. Each time I hear of a company laying off employees because of hyper-automation, etc., I think of it as a failure of leadership. The leaders could now use these five approaches to start a conversation with the L&D teams on how to redesign the jobs for the future. There is a possibility of a future where every job comes with a discriminatory warning – Only Humans Need Apply.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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