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Nov 20
Artificial Intelligence: The Robots Are Coming

Author: Georgina Barrick


Have you ever handed over your credit card, only to have your bank call you to flag the transaction as potential fraud because it didn't fit your spending profile? Or, used LiveChat to talk to a 'Consultant' when buying online? Or, been pleasantly surprised by the music recommendations that Spotify makes for you?

Artificial intelligence is to thank for all of these innovations.

Robots are on the rise.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making them more intelligent daily – and their speed, quality and functionality are being leveraged as a key driver of revenue growth.

AI - and dramatically increased processing power - make it possible for computers to perform highly complex tasks at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time.

They're improving our lives - think Siri, Alexa, self-driving cars, 3D printers, robotic surgery and robot waiters.

This accelerating technology is profoundly affecting the world of work.

Is the worst-case scenario – where massive technological change drives shortages of appropriately skilled talent, unemployment, growing inequality and the rise of social ills – really a potential reality?

How can we survive and thrive in a digital economy?

Technological revolutions aren't new.

Mechanisation in the 18th Century. Mass production in the 19th and 20th Centuries – think the Model T Ford, personal computer and cell phone.

Technological advances disrupt and result in job losses.

What will happen to drivers and car manufacturers when self-driving cars become the norm? Or to bank tellers when bots can fulfil all of their duties and to retail sales assistants when it's easier - and more efficient - to shop online?

But, revolutions also have benefits.

Technology increases productivity and quality, reduces costs and creates employment for people with appropriate skills and knowledge. In the UK, between 2001 and 2015, technology contributed to the loss of 800 000 jobs. However, in the same period, it also helped to create 3.5 million new jobs, resulting in an estimated £140 billion boost to the UK economy.

Will the Digital Revolution be different?

The primary difference between this and previous revolutions is speed.

Today, the unique convergence of factors like clever software, innovative materials (like carbon fibre), more advanced and dexterous robots (think nanotechnology), new processes and web-based services (that facilitate collaboration) is accelerating the move from mass production to mass customisation. Never before, in the history of the world, has the pace of change been so fast - and never again will it be as slow.

This affects not only how things are made – but where. It's estimated that 10-30% of the high value goods – like computers, machinery and fabricated metals – that America now imports from China could be made in the US by 2020, giving the economy a much-needed $20 - $55 billion boost.

But the pace of change means that we're struggling to keep up with the level of disruption.

35% of UK jobs – and 77% of Chinese – are at high risk of automation in the next 10 to 20 years.

'Age of Acceleration' proponents believe that the speed of automation will outpace our ability to adapt and reinvent, leading to widespread unemployment.

On the flipside, academic research suggests that the extent to which machines will take over from humans is overstated – and ignores complementary benefits, like increased productivity.

So, how can we prepare for the Digital Age – and make sure that we don't get left behind in this new reality?

It seems that there is light at the end of the (computer-generated) tunnel…

In 2013, research by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne predicted that while middle-skill workers – like telemarketers and freight agents – were most likely to be replaced by robots over the next decade, professions that require skilled workers to regularly interact with other humans - like scientists, healthcare professionals, leaders, entrepreneurs, writers and artists – were not.

Stay abreast of technology.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) training is key.

Between 2015 and 2020, demand for 'Computer and Mathematical' skills will rise, with an estimated 405 000 new jobs being created. Skills most demand will be 'complex problem solving', 'resource management' and 'cognitive ability'.

And, don't try to go head-to-head with the machines. Rather, focus on what makes you human.

Balance STEM learning with a strong focus on general 'soft' or 'human' skills – like social and communication skills, critical thinking, negotiation/ conflict resolution, problem-solving, inspiration, decisiveness, adaptability and team skills.

The combination of emotional intelligence and technical skill is important if we're going to work successfully alongside computers.

And, as always, continuous learning and staying passionately curious are paramount.

Like economist, Daniel Lacalle, I choose to stay hopeful about the role humans will play in a digital world…

'Evidence shows us that if technology really destroyed jobs, there would be no work today for anyone. The technological revolution we have seen in the past 30 years has been unparalleled and exponential, and there are more jobs, better salaries. The best example is the German region of Bavaria, one of the parts of the world with a higher degree of technification and robotization, and with 2.6% unemployment. An all-time low. The same can be said about South Korea, and the world in general.'

Daniel Lacalle, Economist

Sources: Deloitte/ David Autor, MIT/ The Boston Consulting Group/ Thomas Friedman/ World Economic Forum

Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co and Insource.ICT/ IT Edge, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 20 years of recruitment and executive search experience.

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