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Will Artificial Intelligence eliminate or transform you?

As I was looking into the potential of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, I got increasingly interested in discovering how replacing technologies will affect today’s workers; specifically, the transformation of the workers, and what today’s leaders and governing corporations are doing for those whose positions are at risk of elimination.

First, it makes me wonder the following; if you are currently salaried in one of the positions at risk of elimination due to AI, are you concerned?  Scared?  At what stage of the awareness process are you?  On the corporate end, are you planning to implement AI?  Have you identified its potential for your company? If so, have you given any thought to how it will affect your workers?  Did you put a plan of action in place?

 

Throughout history, there have been many technological changes, all geared to adapt to the evolutionary process.  For example, in the 1900’s, 41% of Americans worked in agriculture, in manual labour.  Operations and productivity were limited by the capacity of humans to complete the physical requirements of the work.  Today, less than 3% work in agriculture.  Manufacturing jobs went from 30% in post WWII years to 10% today.  Automation of our repetitive tasks through machines and robots increased productivity.

The industrial revolution happened when, as humans, we overcame the limitations of our physical power.  We are now in the midst of a new revolution where we will do the same tasks while using our intellectual capacity.  Artificial intelligence offers much more possibilities, which can be both scary as well as exciting!

 

As Bryn Joffsson from MIT stated,

While productivity is at a record high, innovation has never been faster and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income we have a fewer jobs and people are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and the skills and organizations aren’t keeping up”

 

There are so many benefits for my corporation to automate processes through technology, such as automation and artificial intelligence; it resolves productivity problems hindering a faster growth, errors caused by human inaccuracy, recruiting, human resource challenges, customer care experience, streamlining of processes, etc.   Considering all the benefits (and the fact that I think it is super interesting and cool) there is no way back.    But we have a plan to be able to keep up.  Do you?

Every worker of the company knows that this is something we are working toward.  I have communicated it and demonstrated the benefits.  Does it prevent insecurities?  Not really.  Some are excited and looking forward to learning new skills, while others are scared that this will affect them. Some have stopped worrying about it altogether since they are close to retirement!

I sometimes wonder if drivers are aware that they will be replaced by autopilot.  Are taxi drivers looking to transform their careers or solely relying on the courts or government to help them in their claims.

What about cashiers?  Have they seen Amazon Go yet?  Are they scared or excited? Are they working on transforming their skills?  If Amazon Go implements a system that eliminates all cashiers, would Sobey’s, Kroger, Safeway, Loblaw, and any other major retail chain, follow suit?

 

So many critical positions can be affected by Artificial Intelligence in the next 5 years across a wide range of industries such as Law, medical, office workers, customer Service, and many others.  Is your position at risk?  What are you doing about it?  Maybe you haven’t realized the impact yet and you are still in a preliminary stage of awareness.  Can you identify what stage you are at?

Pre contemplation:   People at this stage are completely unaware; they defend their current beliefs and behavior.  They are “in denial.”

Contemplation:   People in this stage are slowly opening their minds, thinking, weighing the pros and cons of change.

Preparation:  People are ready.  They are taking small steps and talking about it to others in a more positive way.  They are reading about the subject; they are considering a timeline for action.

Action: People at this stage have decided to move forward and are prepared. They are now talking in the present tense.  “I am working to achieve this”.

Maintenance:  People here are consistently showing up and adhering to the new plan.  They are active and keep a consistently positive attitude.

Termination:  People at this stage have been consistent for over 6 months with a positive attitude towards change. They adhere to the new ways of doing things and they are now part of the team that encourage others.

 

Throughout history, important technology changes enabled entrepreneurs and workers to create jobs based on new technologies.  Jobs requiring creativity and problem-solving skills often assisted by computers have multiplied.  New job types arise and the cycle continues.  It has always happened this way in the past.  What if it’s different this time?  How many skills can we develop that machines and automation cannot replace?

Our desire to increase the speed of processes and generate more wealth is a noble goal.  Technology drops the price of essential products and consumables, leaving place for more luxuries, so shouldn’t we invest in training and educating those workers we replace with technology?  Are we?

We need to be resilient enough to understand and challenge those positions we replace and seek to teach new skills.  Workers who see this wave of technology change coming should not rely on government to put in place protectionist measures (such as Taxi drivers) but rather open up to change and learn new skills.   It’s not a question of if the change will happen, it’s a question of when!

It seems like A.I. replacing humans is a general concern.  Many have written about it, such as Advance Systems. I hope the leaders of today will take in consideration all the warnings and also all the excitements that A.I. has to offer.

As we move on toward increase in automation and incorporate artificial intelligence to our daily processes, we should all be concerned with and responsible for how we manage this change.  Both workers and corporations must collaborate to create new opportunities and engage in a new cycle.

 

Once you have identified the why’s of your automation and AI initiatives, and prove it is the best option for your corporation, you will then need to get people onboard.  What are your next steps?

Here is an easy 9 step program to transforming labor into what your business will need in the future:

  • Identify the positions at risk of elimination based on your implementations
  • Identify the skills required to work and meet your vision
  • Survey your staff (who knows what, who wants to learn what, what are their dreams, etc)
  • Define a list of courses (this can also be online, free, or inexpensive classes!)
  • Meet with and interview your staff
  • Assign a transformation program manager
  • Transform in parallel to actual positions
  • Integrate new skills into positions
  • Migrate into new positions

As an employee, I would start asking myself these questions, and plan for a sustainable future:

  • Can technology transform my position and eliminate it?
  • Is my employer looking into such initiative?
  • Have they communicated anything on that subject yet?
  • Are they addressing a transformation program for the employees affected by the change?
  • What are the skills that the company will need in the future?
  • Does the company encourage continued education or has a plan to help employee transform?
  • What is preventing me from acting today?

 

At the end of the day, we can choose to either ignore what is happening and just eliminate positions based solely on profit, or we can take a social approach where both the worker and the employer benefit from the new technologies and take responsibility by allowing the transformation to happen for the benefit of all parties.

Simon Sinek said that “Great leaders are idealists. They are optimists. They overestimate what we are capable of and inspire us to believe the same”.  I have been transforming and coaching people for over 20 years; most people just need someone to guide them to believe.  Teaching a skill is not the biggest challenge, getting people to believe in themselves is.

 

Do you think technology will affect your role?

Are you a leader looking to implement AI but are not sure how to transform your workforce?

I’d love to hear about it!

Sophie Barbara Desilets