The future of the workplace is somewhat uncertain. Technological development is advancing at a phenomenal speed, leading to significant and in some cases, exponential change in working environments. Technological advancements that have captured the attention of many organizations are those relating to machine learning and artificial intelligence. This has led to a lot of questions about what workplaces of the future might look like.
Some people are fearful of the idea of machines in the workplace, and there is much concern about artificial intelligence replacing jobs. There has been a lot of panic about this in some quarters. It is true that some jobs may no longer require human input. Indeed, figures released by McKinsey in late 2017 suggested that between 39 and 73 million jobs will become automated in the United States; some 375 million could be impacted worldwide. However, the situation is not as simple and straightforward as all that. It is the belief of experts that humans and machines will be more likely to work together toward delivering on shared goals. Indeed, Gartner suggests that 2.3 million jobs could be created as a result of AI by the start of the next decade. While Gartner estimates automation will also eliminate 1.8 million jobs by then – the large share in manufacturing – it “will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025.”
Gartner believes that this will include the entry-level and lower skilled jobs that some have suggested will fail to exist as a result of automation. Overall, most analysts seem to be of the belief that the way that work is done will change, and that both humans and machines will play an important role in future workplaces.
There is much to be gained from collaboration between people and computers. Through humans and machines both participating in work, the specific strengths of each can be drawn on for improved outcomes. People and machines can together carry out tasks that neither would be able to complete alone. Also, of great benefit to humans, there will be a reduced need for carrying out mundane, manual activities, as machines can undertake these types of tasks to a much higher degree of accuracy and without the mental toll repetitive work takes.
This does not mean that jobs for people disappear. Many experts believe that the jobs of the future may be associated with checking and validation instead. However, as the McKinsey report says, it is likely humans will need new skills.
Collaboration between people and machines in a hybrid manner is likely to occur. While machines can be programmed to carry out tasks, and even rather complex activities, and to learn from different situations, there are some things that humans will naturally be better at. For example, while robots already are assisting doctors in some surgeries, for the foreseeable future a good deal of input will be needed from the doctor regarding the approach to take, and weighing up among different possibilities and decisions. It is difficult for robots to respond to situations that are unknown to them, so humans will be needed to pass judgment and make decisions.
Clearly, it is important to look at the strengths that both humans and machines bring in different working environments, to get the best out of each working in collaboration with one another. This will help companies adapt to ensure that their workplace of the future draws on the best that both people and machines can bring. It is this approach that will lead to improved productivity, and in turn, increased competitive advantage.