The workplace has never been static when it comes to technology — machines have taken over assembly lines, while automated phone call systems have replaced receptionists. Throughout history, our tech has always been replaced by even more advanced tech. Yet, today’s automation is different — thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence.
The development of artificial intelligence (AI) is more significant than any advancement yet: not only can machines do tasks for us, they can make better decisions than we can. What does this mean for the workforce of the future? Will humans be completely replaced by computers and robots? The answer may not be as pessimistic as some suggest. Read on to explore the impact AI can have on the future of work.
Will automation replace today’s workforce?
Researchers at the University of Oxford conducted a study in 2013, proposing that as many as 47% of jobs in the United States could be computerized. Artificial intelligence is what separates today’s automation advancements from those that came before. Self-driving cars are no longer a dream; they’ve already taken shape. We rely on Siri and Google Now to help us with the simplest of tasks. The impending reality of artificial intelligence leaves many of us scared about the future, for ourselves and our children. What will we do with our lives if computers can do everything for us?
It turns out more of us are concerned about this than not: a Pew Research Center survey showed that 65% of Americans believe that within 50 years most of today’s work will be done by computers or robots. Businesses have only added to the impression that automation means replacing humans with computers. Sometimes it’s a matter of cutting costs, other times it has to do with efficiency — businesses have laid off thousands of workers in favor of automation, and will likely continue to do so. Looking into the future, what happens in a society that doesn’t need work? How do people survive without a regular income?
These are serious questions, but they’re also one-sided. They’re based on the assumption that humans will be replaced with computers and robots, and left with nothing (an assumption 65% of us are concerned about). What if we consider a future where automation doesn’t replace, but instead complements human ability?
Automation vs. augmentation
Indeed, there are some who envision this very future. The Harvard Business Review published an article in 2015 explaining the concept, called augmentation. While smarter, advanced computers can analyze big data and reveal insights humans can’t, computer intelligence is only part of the puzzle. Any good business leader knows that all business decisions must be made within a context. The backstory and implications need to be understood — in other words, a narrative or story needs to be told and weighed into the decision-making. Computers aren’t great at this, but humans are.
From this perspective, automation gives humans more opportunities to pursue positions that require high-level — or “big picture” — thinking. Rather than pushing humans out of the workforce, augmentation allows humans to work alongside machines, contributing in ways that computers can’t. These high-level positions are more fulfilling for us than factory work or data-crunching.