The way we work has always been dictated by the technology available to us. As technology improves, says Charles Towers-Clark, CEO of Pod Group, the workforce adapts to match the new standard of efficiency, and a whole range of jobs is created based on newly created skills. But what happens when a technology comes along that can communicate, analyse, and learn on its own, much quicker than any human?
While Internet of Things (IoT) technology has been changing industry for years now, the dawn of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will truly shake things up. This will require a whole new way of working – just ask mill owners what happened when the steam engine arrived – but while most jobs will indeed be disrupted, this does not have to be the earthquake that some people fear.
Two sides of the coin
IoT connectivity is part of our daily lives already, but these devices cannot really function without an AI component to make sense of the data. Sensors and transmitters are to AI what the body is to the brain; an impressive feat of communal engineering, but not much else without intelligence. Yes, IoT devices communicate billions of data packets every day, but AI takes this data, processes, filters, and acts on it so that we end up with more efficient processes, not just a mountain of ones and zeros.
The growth of AI doesn’t just mean new opportunities, roles, and entirely new sectors (look how far e-commerce has come in 25 years), it also means that connected technology will finally have the processing power needed to reach its full potential. In the manufacturing sector, for example, AI could fully automate equipment maintenance, and suggest proactive changes without human analysis. When AI and IoT properly come together, we will have to adapt our attitudes to work to effectively harness these technologies.
A whole new world
So, what should we do when these titans of innovation change the way we work irrevocably? Get ready, keep calm, and carry on. AI and IoT are certainly intimidating, and many process-driven jobs (including the programmers that coded the AI) will be replaced, but this will lead to higher level jobs required to manage these automated processes. According to a study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, AI will automate 70% of today’s jobs in the energy sector, and 65% in consumer staples within the next few decades – but work that requires intense planning, abstraction and emotional intelligence (such as tackling an energy crisis, or writing test code) will always need the human touch.
This is partly because AI relies on a technique called back-propagation that solves problems using acquired experience – but that needs to start from scratch when asked to pick up a bottle instead of a cup. AI’s emergence into the mainstream will exponentially boost our overall productivity and efficiency, but AI cannot replicate those human attributes that bring processes together, so we will have to change the way we work to promote our irreplaceable ingenuity.
WEIRD times ahead
In my company, Pod Group, we saw the need to adapt to a future where AI will handle any process more thoroughly than we can, and so changed our organisational structure to emphasise that which sets us above computers.
Our WEIRD strategy is built around the attributes of Wisdom, Emotional Intelligence, Initiative, Responsibility and Development, and sets out to have everyone take ownership of their actions. This leads employees to feel engaged with their work and understand its place within the bigger picture – vital when considering our need to manage robots, who can’t extrapolate very well.
Creating a transparent environment where employees can make their own decisions (about their work, finances, salaries, and their company), creates a sense of individual leadership. Work is then focused on the future of the company and how to get there, leaving AI to take care of the task at hand.
While the factory of the future may be fully automated, humans will be in charge. We will use AI’s predictive, prescriptive, and adaptive analytics to look further into the future, develop more advanced technologies, and make our lives easier and more profitable – until the next industrial revolution has us panicking again.
The author of this blog is Charles Towers-Clark, CEO of Pod Group