From meeting its hype to eliminating tasks, technology is rapidly influencing the workforce.
By now, we know it’s possible for even the savviest of people to make comically incorrect predictions about emerging technologies. The internet was once predicted to be a fad, unlikely to take off in any meaningful way. One prominent businessman famously predicted in 1995 that “The Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse."
As things stand, we seem to be on the cusp of several revolutionary inventions. Virtual and augmented reality are still chugging along, threatening to meet their long-hyped potential any day now. They’re joined in the pipeline by 5G, blockchain and quantum computing technologies - all promising to transform the world as we know it, or to flop spectacularly.
Among the most disruptive developments in the works are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, particularly with regards to their effect on automation. While it’s difficult to make accurate predictions with so little empirical data at hand, we’re starting to have a bit to go on. We already know for sure that automation isn’t hype, since it’s already being used in countless real-world applications affecting both blue- and white-collar work. According to survey findings by Forrester Research, in 2019, roughly 10% of U.S. jobs will be eliminated by automation, which will also be responsible for creating the equivalent of 3% of today’s jobs. Moreover, the firm predicts robotic process automation (RPA) and AI will create digital workers for more than 40% of companies next year.
Each new study or thought piece sandwiches the “bad news” with assurances that unemployment won’t skyrocket as a result of these advances; instead, we’re told, they’ll simply eliminate the menial tasks and give way to more complex, stimulating work for humans to enjoy. In line with that prediction, Forrester forecasts that in 2019, AI-driven recruitment will become widespread, leading to unprecedented job match success rates.
But if we’re being honest, it’s clear that a large portion of the current workforce will be made obsolete within the next decade, and that there’ll be a period of significant shortage of skilled workers to fill these new complex, supposedly fulfilling positions. The period of adaptation will most likely be fraught with rippling complications and unforeseen setbacks.
In the midst of all these changes - and without denying AI’s potential for good - Forrester believes a full 10% of companies will “bring human expertise back into the loop” as they come to grips with AI’s limitations. That’s all par for the course, and the cost of progress may very well be worthwhile, in the end. But for the foreseeable future - in as much as it can truly be foreseen - all signs point to human wisdom remaining at the heart of knowledge engineering, and to human touch remaining crucial to customer satisfaction.
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