Unraveling the Human-Robot Tension

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Humans and machines are to be work colleagues.

Forward-looking companies understood and implemented this early on. For other companies that stood on the sidelines, COVID-19 made an AI-augmented workforce an urgent necessity.

It created what Cognizant calls the “second act of digital.” Unlike past technological revolutions, this one is beginning in the Asia Pacific and will shape how the rest of the world works.

Intelligence meets future of work

Asia Pacific companies are becoming more optimistic about the use of AI. In the whitepaper “The Work Ahead: Asia Drives Digital’s Future,” 93% of respondents in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East see AI having the most significant impact on work, compared to 89% from North America and Europe.

The impact is not just new tools or a technological upgrade. The whitepaper’s author, Manish Bahl, and the associate vice president for the Center for the Future of Work — Asia Pacific and the Middle East at Cognizant, feels that as a result, the rules of global competition have changed.

 “A very interesting example is an Indian utility company that utilized AI-enabled analytics to predict the need for repairs and ensure machinery runs at peak efficiency. And as a result, the businesses moved away from a repair and replace model to predict and proactively fix issues. By merging AI with analytics, businesses can improve data management, decision making, and customer engagement,” he says.

Machines will continue to shift the balance of intelligence. “An augmented workforce will definitely have a lot of benefits as machines become much more intelligent,” Bahl explains.

The potential of machines having the potential to do the heavy lifting in analyzing huge volumes of processed data has seen many companies jump on the AI bandwagon. Bahl argues that they need to be realistic about humans’ role in the age of AI to maximize the potential benefits.

Watch Manish Bahl explain how and why Asia Pacific companies are getting realistic about the role of the human workforce in the era of AI.

Jobs vs. tasks

One impact of AI is that employees who can bring human-centric capabilities to the table will be in great demand. The whitepaper notes capabilities such as decision making, strategic thinking, and learning will become the top three vital skills by 2023.

Bahl reasons that the growing need for such capabilities results from machines “lacking an emotional quotient.” “For example, AI wouldn’t understand why a refund is necessarily an exceptional case, while a human might know that it is because we want to retain a customer.”

AI and human employees will not be working in isolation or competition, as many employees may have previously imagined, but together, as colleagues. Companies consequently need to ensure their current employee base has the right skills to work effectively with machines.

“The rise of automation and AI is raising questions about the employable skills and behaviors that are necessary for people to participate in the future of work. So, preparing the current and future workforce with relevant skills requires a reboot of traditional decades of old training and learning, you know, models and approaches,” says Bahl.

Companies should not limit the soul-searching to only their employee base. Employers also need to understand that jobs and tasks are separate. “In fact, the real confusion is between jobs and tasks among workers,” says Bahl, who sees this confusion manifesting as resistance to AI and fear of job losses. 

For example, Bahl believes 75% of existing jobs will be enhanced with machines, “which means that your job remains, but the job description, performance metrics, and the outcomes are going to be altered with new tools and capabilities.”

A vague idea of the change in roles, responsibilities, and ownership that will come with the increased role of AI in the workplace, rather than a solid understanding of what lies ahead, will only create fear. While COVID-19 has forced many employees to face fear, companies will still need to proactively address “the elephant in the room.”

You do not have to look far to see examples of this already working in pre-COVID-19 days. A clear example is HR using AI to pre-screen applicants. “It does not mean the AI is taking the job of a recruiter; it is only enhancing the role by reducing the time spent going through applications and finding the right one,” explains Bahl.

Business leaders need to change these perceptions by emphasizing the difference between jobs and tasks for their AI-augmented workforce to perform.

Want more in-depth insights about how humans and machines will collaborate and how the current workforce and business will adapt to AI? Read from the featured whitepaper “The Work Ahead: Asia Drives Digital’s Future.” It is available for download here.


Steps forward

A separate whitepaper, “The True Meaning of AI: Action & Insight,” highlights six steps that companies need for applying AI in the workforce and the workplace.

Step 1: Check your progress with AI by checking the growth of data

Align decision-making speed with the growth of data, so data volumes do not overwhelm decisions. For example, the whitepaper notes that “if you expect a 30% annual growth in data over the next 12 months, then the organization’s speed of making insights and applying AI needs to accelerate by 30% over the same period.”

Step 2: Get your data right, and make it richer

A good first-party data set is no longer enough for AI performance. Companies need to enrich the data set with psychographic, geospatial, and real-time data. To do this, the whitepaper advises companies to do the “hard work” right upfront to manage and govern these data types and make them useful for interrogation.

Step 3: Solve the human side of the equation

People make AI successful. HR should already prioritize talent who can connect the dots between technology, business needs, and creating solutions — or companies may be left behind.

Step 4: Be ready to kick off your own skills renaissance

AI and data skills are challenging to acquire. Companies need to maximize the talent they already have with a “root-and-branch reform” of upskilling and internal career progression.

Step 5: Adopt a culture of collaboration and learning

Creating data tribes that include squads of data stewards, data engineers, and data modelers looking at a specific problem or customer touchpoint will be the future of work. A robust data culture across the company will become vital, and rotating IT and non-IT staff between functions is good practice.

Step 6: Construct new workflows to reach new performance thresholds
Employers need to communicate the difference between tasks and jobs and reward employees for the latter. It drives trust and ensures employees see their machine colleagues as protectors of their careers and not as threats.

Says Bahl, these steps to drive AI into the organization will help increase the workforce intelligence quotient. It gives them more ways to access information, explore more choices, and become more productive.

“The AI-augmented worker is all about leveraging AI technologies to enhance the human capability at the end of the day so that we can be more focused on tasks and areas that we really enjoy working on. But definitely augmenting workers is going to redefine the way work is performed in organizations.”

Looking to learn about the six steps and how C-level executives are deploying AI to augment their workforce? Read the featured whitepaper “The True Meaning of AI: Action & Insight”. It is available for download here.


Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected]

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