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AI and robotics brings both enthusiasm and concern towards modern work methods. It’s time to focus on the opportunities it presents and prepare society for the upcoming changes, says Agustina Bottinelli.

Paper-based workflows, communication by landline or post, and industrialised processes without computers have become shadows of the past. Digital is no longer new, it’s the norm. Not too far back, 10 years ago, smartphones didn’t even exist. Today, they have become the hub of our daily lives. And amid all this, with our desire for smarter and faster computers and technology, artificial Intelligence (AI) is having a bigger influence in the digital world and on our society.

AI is an area of computer science that emphasises the creation of intelligent machines capable of simulating decisions and actions made by humans. Their reasoning is based on the constant extraction and learning of big data — large data sets used and analysed by organisations for business gains —, and being able to constantly improve their task execution. They learn, reason and solve problems much faster than any human being ever could.

For this reason, it is normal that the integration of AI and robotics brings both enthusiasm and concern towards modern work methods. And experts predict AI will have a substantial impact on industries like pharmaceuticals, finance, hospitality, education, telecommunications, as well as their work environments, over the next 10 years.


The future is on our doorstep

Some will already have seen evidence of AI in the workplace, in the form of chatbots. These computer programs simulate conversations with humans and can handle different scenarios. They are expected to save companies millions in salary expenditures annually and increase their efficiency by about 30 per cent.HR departments are using them to act as virtual support centres for employees, answering general questions on topics such as salary, tax issues and holidays, while IT departments use them as the first step in a help desk query.

Companies see huge potential. They are starting to invest in software developers to create programs supported by AI and to streamline their back-office operations, an activity which is often time-consuming. An example is dTrax, a tool developed by the consulting company Deloitte. Its focus is contract management as support for its legal departments. The tool drafts, negotiates and executes contracts allowing legal teams to serve the business faster and better while reducing the amount of time managing the contract process.



Developing new skill sets

But as AI creates new jobs, it also makes others redundant. The disruptive incorporation of AI is changing the professional world very fast. According to Mc Kinsey Global Institute, by 2030 almost 50 per cent of jobs will be at risk of being automated by AI.

Although predictions might sound shocking to some, the amount of jobs that AI will replace shouldn’t be the focus of the discussion. How to prepare society and for the upcoming changes should, and within that the need for humans to sharpen and develop the skills they possess.

Several research studies illustrate how the skills that we consider important today will shift with the incorporation of AI into the work force. The skills of the future are soft skills such as creativity, people management and collaboration. Supporting this change will be key for companies in order to motivate and retain employees.

The US telecommunication company AT&T, for example, has launched the Workforce 2020 initiative. This $1 billion investment program aims to retrain more than 100,000 employees whose jobs will no longer be relevant in the next 10 years.


A new working landscape

It is not yet clear what will happen with the millions of automated jobs that AI will replace. Opportunities emerge from every crisis, so the fourth industrial revolution shouldn’t be the exception.

The frantic race for AI dominance in the workplace will be won by companies that invest in technological solutions that enable their human capital to focus on strategic decisions and stop spending time in time-consuming tasks that AI will be able to do.

In an ideal scenario, humans will dedicate themselves to things only humans can do. The skills with the highest demand will be the ones associated with creativity, dexterity and social behaviours. And although unimaginable now, AI will generate endless opportunities for new jobs and careers for people around the globe.