The fear that artificial intelligence will threaten the jobs of human workers is quickly being dispelled. “It is natural that with change comes fear, however fear also hinders development moving forward. Change should therefore be viewed as an opportunity and nowhere is that more apparent than in our current digital economy where new avenues of knowledge, skills and possibilities abound,” states Ebrahim Dinat, COO of South African customer experience solutions provider, Ocular Technologies.
“There is a general mantra that robots and AI will take over loads of jobs currently done by people. Whereas this may be true, it is also fact that robots and AI work hand in hand with people. Lessons learnt from history have also shown that workforce revolutions, such as the industrial revolution, brought new trends in employment, as technology has always required humans to run it. A mass transformation in workforce also has the power to change the social, economic and political landscape. As the robots march in, so to say, it must thus be remembered that humans are the creators of automation technology and innovation, and the so are the architects of the future.”
Dave Wright, chief strategy officer and evangelist for how to improve workplace productivity at ServiceNow, recently wrote an article titled, “Companies using AI will add more jobs than they cut”. He notes: “There’s growing evidence that as companies embrace AI to stay competitive, which they will, in the end these changes will create more jobs than they destroy.” Wright also says: “Some jobs will be affected, and some even eliminated – what will change is the mix of skills required for the new jobs that will rise in their place.”
“Figures show that robots can help a business grow,” continues Dinat. “As South Africans we must be open to the new skills that are becoming available to us in various local and global industries due to automation, as these could positively impact on the country’s employment rate.”
Dinat highlights the newly released 2017 Agent Experience Survey by Ocular Technologies software partner, Aspect, which shows the symbiotic relationship between human and robot in a contact centre environment. “The data in the survey reveals that ‘customer service chatbots are not just addressing customers’ self service desires for simple query resolution. They can also increase agents’ job satisfaction, improve their skills, and raise engagement – and that means a better customer experience’,” he says.
“Chatbots and agents can thus have a mutually beneficial relationship that results in the growth of a business through exceptional customer care. By eliminating mundane tasks, agents can focus on more complex tasks, deliver a more personalised experience to the company, and feel more valued as they have a bigger impact on the company.”
He emphasises that the world has changed significantly in the last 10 years, and organisations need to capitalise on new technology today to prepare for the near future. “There is a digital gap that needs to be filled. Manual jobs will give way to more knowledge worker jobs. Automation is no longer futuristic fiction. It is fact and it is advancing rapidly – and we need to learn to engage with it and take advantage of it. We need to make our youth aware of the wonderful and vast new job opportunities that are available to them.”
He underscores this by pointing to the January 2017 study by McKinsey, A future that works: automation, employment, and productivity, which states: “High-skill workers who work closely with technology will likely be in strong demand, and may be able to take advantage of new opportunities for independent work as the corporate landscape shifts and project work is outsourced by companies. Middle-skill workers whose activities have the highest technical potential for automation (predictable physical activities, collecting and analysing data) can seek opportunities for retraining to prepare for shifts in their activities toward those that are complementary to activities the machines will start to perform.
“Low-skill workers working with technology will be able to achieve more in terms of output and productivity but may experience wage pressure given the potentially large supply of similarly low-skill workers.
“Education systems will need to evolve for a changed workplace, with policy makers working with education providers to improve basic skills in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and put a new emphasis on creativity, as well as on critical and systems thinking. For all, developing agility, resilience, and flexibility will be important at a time when everybody’s job is likely to change to some degree.
“Finally, automation will create an opportunity for those in work to make use of the innate human skills that machines have the hardest time replicating: social and emotional capabilities, providing expertise, coaching and developing others, and creativity. For now, the world of work still expects men and women to undertake rote tasks that do not stretch these innate capabilities as far as they could. As machines take on ever more of the predictable activities of the workday, these skills will be at a premium. Automation could make us all more human.”
“It can be a beautiful relationship. It all depends on our mindset and how we take advantage of this new world,” concludes Dinat.