Technology – Shaping the future workforce

Tausifur Rahman | Aug 17, 2020

“We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come—namely, technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.”
(John Maynard Keynes, 1930)

A few months ago, on a lazy sultry evening while glancing through American talk show videos, I found an old video of “To Night Show” by Jimmy Fallon. I have never been an avid admirer of Jimmy Fallon and would have preferred to watch Jimmy Kimmel or David Letterman talk show on any given day, albeit my eyes remained glued to the screen thanks to the fascinating guest on the show and her astonishing musical performance. The esteemed guest Sophia, a social humanoid robot developed by Hanson and a proud first non-human citizen of Saudi Arabia (or any country of the modern world) is unique and unrivalled in many different ways. Since 2016, Sophia has travelled across the globe participating in high profile interviews, discussion forums and chat shows. Her fluttering long eyelashes, facial expressions, demeanour, social mannerism, creative and computing abilities has already bedazzled the corporate world.

The musical performance lasted for a few minutes, yet it left me with a compelling thought to explore the potential impact of disruptive technical innovations on the future workforce and work environment. I was wondering if Sophia is ever employed by any business enterprise, how would she deal with everyday issues, faults and foibles of her direct reports and ambiguous stress inducing directions of seniors. Many science fiction movies provide a sneak peek into the dystopian future world inhabited by human beings and their robotic counterparts.

Heralding a new age

In a world that is changing faster than we think, it is indeed an onerous task to prognosticate the gamut of changes that would shape the contours of the future workforce. It stands to reason, to believe that the technology would play a pivotal role to advance, augment and alter future workforce, workplace and work culture. The economic and social environment are continuously evolving and will have its own share of influence on the corporate work environment and work force. In this article, we will limit our discussion to the role of technology in preparing tomorrow’s work force and its potential consequences.

The next decade would be watershed for the process automation, robotic interventions and AI enabled decision making in the business organizations. The trend is strikingly visible on the corporate horizon – CIOs and CHROs are racing against time to deploy artificial intelligence enabled tools to automate the repetitive and transactional works. The journey that started long back with robotic assembly lines in manufacturing industries and for carrying out specific dangerous operations in defence sector has already forayed into the unchartered territory of services automation, creative world of editorial writings and robotic surgeries among many other specialized areas. With the rapid advancement of technology, the mundane roles performed by the mere mortals will continue to be replaced by the machines and applications. The data shown in the table substantiates the degree and direction of the proposed and potential changes vis-à-vis Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

  • Forrester has predicted the RPA software market to total $2.9 billion in 2021.
  • The global robotic process automation market size was valued at USD 1.40 billion in 2019 and is projected to exhibit a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40.6% from 2020 to 2027.
  • According to Gartner, by 2023, there will be a 30% increase in the use of RPA for front-office functions.
  • Through 2023, computational resources used in AI will increase 5x from 2018, making AI the top category of workloads driving infrastructure decisions.

In the coming decade, the corporate honchos would be happy to experiment and examine the possibility of having the humanoid robots in decision making roles.

Let us keep our fingers crossed – it would be really worth waiting for the intriguing results and actionable insights before we usher into a new era of human machine collaboration. The success would enhance the extent and scope of automation considerably, unlocking the doors to new vistas of opportunities.

Automation – Impact on Employment

Almost a century ago, British economist John Maynard Keynes made some predictions about the technological unemployment in his research paper “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. Keynes seems to have misjudged the impact, nevertheless, this unprecedented new age of automation and innovation is also a period of great challenges and uncertainty pertaining to employment and skill gap vis-à-vis organization job requirements. In 2017, Forrester estimated that automation would result in a net loss of about 7% of jobs in the US by 2027, replacing 17% of jobs while creating new jobs equivalent to 10% of the workforce. According to report published by the McKinsey Global Institute, 400 - 800 million jobs could be lost due to robotic automation by 2030. It estimated that jobs are at more risk in developed countries than developing countries due to a greater availability of capital to invest in automation. There are experts who oppose the theory of job losses, they believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will create more jobs than it displaces by boosting economic growth. The impact of automation on employment is indeed real, however its scope and scale will vary based on the country, industry sector and worker education and skill profile.

Humanoid Robots and Organization Behaviour

The introduction and adoption of AI enabled humanoid robots in our offices will redefine the organization work culture and core values. It will require a lot of study and research to understand the spectrum of changes in Organizational Behaviour. Julia Carpenter, has published a book, “Culture and Human-Robot Interaction in Militarized Spaces: A War Story (Emerging Technologies, Ethics and International Affairs” on the mentioned subject. The book critically examines the contexts that influence or constrain everyday human-robot interactions, what human factors are shaping the (robotic) technology and how people and culture are being changed by these interactions. It seems to me a Chinese puzzle to comprehend - if the humanoid robots would align with organization culture and its nuances or perhaps organizations culture will be tweaked to provide much needed exception to the revered machines. What is wondering me most is the fate of ubiquitous corporate gossips in a futuristic work environment. Perhaps, humanoids robots deployed in the corporate organisations will have “Behaviour Settings” feature to culturally amalgamate with fellow human colleagues, very similar to Humour and Honesty settings capability of TARS robot in the Hollywood science fiction film Interstellar.

Bottom Line

The automation will provide long term cost benefits and operational efficiency to the business enterprises. AI enabled tools and humanoid robots will enable organisations to make accurate and faster decisions. Under the increasing pressure from investors and shareholders, companies will strive to maximise profit and minimise cost using the cutting technologies of the modern times. The automation with all gains and losses is an inevitable reality for the organisations to march ahead in the post COVID world. We must gear ourselves up to remain competitive and relevant to the ever changing market.