“I fear that AI may replace humans altogether,” mused the late Stephen Hawking in an interview with Wired in 2017. Although Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is optimistic about the overall benefits of AI to our lives, Elon Musk has stated: “There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. … I mean all of us.”
Looking for truth between these extremes, there’s been a great deal of research conducted on the expected job losses to AI. But “predictions range from optimistic to devastating, differing by tens of millions of jobs even when comparing similar time frames,” according to an analysis by MIT Business Review.
One thing is certain, though: the uncertainty around the future of jobs is on the minds of workers. A recent Gallup poll found that 73 per cent of Americans believe the adoption of AI will result in a loss of more jobs than it creates.
And a survey by Workforce Institute found that while four out of five employees (82 per cent) see opportunity for AI to improve their jobs, about a third (34 per cent) “expressed concern that AI could someday replace them altogether, including 42 per cent of Gen Z employees.”
Robots and automation have been changing the workplace for quite some time, according to Gartner research director Helen Poitevin, in ThinkCast podcast The Future Workplace: Humans Need Not Apply?
“What changes is that we are increasingly personifying or giving a more human-like role to certain technologies — especially when it comes to AI, where there’s a lot of questions and debate around how much we should or could be treating them almost as humans,” she said.
Poitevin reassures listeners that “one of the biggest misconceptions is that all of our jobs will disappear.” She believes work will continue to revolve around human beings for the next 10 years and beyond. That being said, “some jobs will disappear, some jobs will be created, all jobs will be changed in some way” by advances in technology.
For instance, she says we’re seeing more interest in the idea of the ‘centaur,’ which combines humans with technology, where “people are working with technology in different ways and able to do more faster.”
Two other questions she sees around AI are how far it can go as a set of technologies and whether all of us will even accept these technologies: “It’s not a given that people will broadly embrace and accept these technologies and that they will become that much more available to pretty much everybody around the world.”
While AI is getting a lot of attention, Poitevin sees the gig economy as a second major technological driver of change in the workplace, allowing for work to be done in a much more agile way — where you match the work to the worker.
Poitevin suggests that organizations prepare for these changes by using long-term scenario planning to inform decisions around technology investment. In the shorter term, however, she says organizations should adopt “digital dexterity as an organizational competency” — which refers to the willingness, aptitude and ability to use technology to deliver business value in innovative ways.
So while robots may not take over the world — or your job — it’s worth considering how they will impact your organization.