While the use of automation and artificial intelligence technologies is increasing, they will become widely used in the coming years and have a profound impact on the workforce and job security. Many low skill jobs will be lost. Some new highly skilled jobs will be created. Most jobs will be impacted to some degree.
That is the message from a new report from Forrester analyst J. P. Gownder, “Automation Technologies, Robotics, and AI in the Workforce, Q2 2017,” which warns that millions of jobs are at stake as we change how tasks are performed.
Gownder says automation technologies are already reshaping the workforce, driven by physical robots, software and AI, and customer self-service solutions. Technology managers who understand, evaluate, deploy and manage these technologies are now finding themselves working with a wide array of business, HR, and operational leaders.
One of the most important roles ahead for these managers will be “the task of eliminating jobs,” Gownder says.
Automation will displace 24.7 million jobs in the US by 2027, Gownder predicts. Most at risk will be jobs like office administrators, salespeople, construction workers, and call center employees, though there is a long list of other positions as well.
“Because of automation, your company is likely to eliminate jobs, too, but not necessarily via layoffs,” Gownder notes. “Many of these jobs will be ‘lost’ in the sense that, absent automation, they would otherwise have materialized over time. One company told us that it reduced employment in a shared service function by 8 percent and capped future hiring but gained far more efficiency for those remaining. For you, this means developing a strategic viewpoint on the future size and scope of your workforce and how automation should play a role.”
The prospect of adding new jobs
The new automation economy will also create jobs – an estimated 14.9 million new jobs in the US by 2027, Gownder says.
“Some of these jobs will fall under the technology management umbrella, and all of them will deeply link to your automation infrastructure,” Gownder explains. Technology and HR leaders will have to partner “to develop a strategy for recruiting, training, and managing the right skill sets for the automation economy. Employees with science, technology, engineering, and math skills are obvious additions.”
Perhaps less obvious? “Change management professionals to help mixed human machine digital workforces succeed,” Gownder says.
The opportunity to transform existing jobs
Even employees who haven’t lost or gained a job due to automation will be profoundly influenced by it, Gownder stresses.
Forrester calls this “working side by side with robots,” and it refers to how automation transforms existing jobs by removing certain tasks from an employee's responsibilities.
Gownder provides the example of Autodesk, a software company that is using cognitive tools from IBM Watson to reshape customer contact center support. “Watson handles more and more tier 1 support calls, but humans’ jobs have changed, too: Using natural language processing (NLP), the system can route customer queries to human agents more effectively and offer contact center employees more and better information to help them solve problems faster.”
Artificial intelligence is driving the next wave of job automation
Leaders of other large technology firms, including Baidu CEO Robin Li and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, have already announced a move from “mobile first” to “AI first” in their innovation efforts, Gownder says.
“AI technologies mimic various human brain functions, creating solutions to intellectual tasks and opening up the possibility of replacing and/or augmenting white-collar, thinking-based jobs,” Gownder says.
Gownder says AI is already having the following effects on the workforce:
Have already begun to penetrate enterprises at scale
“Although AI emerged in the 1950s, only in the past two decades has it begun to successfully live up to its promise of solving complex tasks. Enterprises have responded in recent years, with 41% now saying they are implementing, have implemented, or are expanding implementations of cognitive and AI tools.”
Take on increasing numbers of job tasks, including white-collar duties
“Thinking machines threaten numerous jobs that used to require human inputs. For example, office and administrative support jobs will be among the earliest, and most heavily, affected by automation.8 Robotic process automation (RPA) — which applies to much of the work of customer service, office, and administrative staff — will play a key role in cannibalizing these jobs in the next few years.”
Inject intelligence into new and existing applications
“New cloud-based tools offer enterprises the opportunity to infuse a wide variety of employee- and customer-facing applications with the power of AI. Such tools include natural language processing and generation, visual search and image recognition, machine learning, deep learning, and others. By tapping into tools like Amazon AI, Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, and Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite, developers can easily add AI algorithms to their apps.”
Transform business processes
“With AI, companies can serve both employees and customers with proactive, informed, contextual insights. Some 43 percent of business and technology decision makers believe that AI could enable them to disrupt their industry by developing new business models, products, and services.
Grow top-line revenue — eventually.
“For all the excitement about AI, most enterprise decision makers remain cautious in their assessments of AI’s value today. This is because they haven’t yet attained real-world experience, expertise, and business results.”
“Enterprise decision makers remain cautious in their assessments of AI’s value today,” Gownder concludes. “When it comes to driving innovation and creating new growth, fewer than one in five believes that AI is delivering, compared with 41 percent who say performance analytics is doing so. As the technology matures, this will change, but today, the time horizon is long.”
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