According to a report by Pega/Marketforce, a full 69 percent of senior executives expect the term “workforce” to eventually include both human employees and intelligent machines. As a result, Americans could lose out on 24 million jobs. Even the World Economic Forum has urged governments, businesses, and employees to plan quickly, as the window of opportunity to proactively manage this jarring change is coming to a close, fast. To learn more about the topic, we conducted an interview with Rhonda Scharf, author of Alexa is Stealing Your Job: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Future.
1. Can you tell us more about your new book?
Alexa is Stealing Your Job – The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Future is an easy to read guide on what you need to do to ensure that your future is secure. AI is changing what we need to do and how we do it. The book gives you a roadmap for success in this changing world!
2. Is AI considered a threat to our jobs? Will the machine be taking over many of our jobs?
There certainly are a lot of doomsday predictions out there. I think that a lot of the repetitive tasks that we perform will disappear. If you can write down instructions on what to do, then a machine can take over that task. Virtually every job will have some aspect of it affected by AI. However, once AI removes all the time-consuming repetitive jobs that we do, we will have more time to create, problem-solve, and learn from what AI is teaching us. I am confident that AI will increase the jobs available into jobs that we can’t even imagine will exist.
For instance, when the ATM was introduced in the 1980s people were concerned all the banking jobs would disappear. But there are actually more bank tellers today than there were in the 80s. Why? Because automation made it easier for us to open up more branches. We didn’t need to pay people to count money as machines could do that. Customers could use the machine for the simple things and then the bank tellers could be used to create customer experience, complete more complex tasks, and create loyalty.
When the factory lines of the 50s were introduced, it got rid of those factory jobs. People were able to do more thought-based work instead of mindless repetition.
Will jobs change? Absolutely; but they will change for the better!
3. Can you give us some examples on job tasks Alexa can do instead of us today?
There is so much she can do. She currently has over 60,000 skills. She can automate a lot of home-based jobs such as grocery shopping. You can open up the fridge and notice you are almost out of milk, and just say “Alexa, order me low-fat milk” and it will appear at your door whenever you decide. You can have her collect your comments all week and order groceries on Friday (or whatever day you choose) when you arrive home from work.
At work she can find a hole in your calendar, book a meeting with your boss (based on her calendar), book a flight, a specific seat, a hotel, a car etc. You can say ‘Alexa join my meeting’ and she will automatically patch you into the meeting you are scheduled to be attending. Tell her to call your taxi, lower the blinds, adjust the temperature or order supplies and she can do it.
Alexa is a metaphor for AI, which is in infiltrating virtually every aspect of business already. That customer service rep you just spoke to? She wasn’t real. She was AI. That online chat you just had? Not a real person either. AI can adjust the temperature in your home or office automatically based on who is in the room. AI will know that you get up at 7am on Monday, and have the house at your specific temperature for the bathroom. It will have the kitchen ready at 7:30 but won’t bother with the rest of the house because you don’t typically go there. However, if you do walk into another room it will automatically calibrate the temperature and air flow. When your furnace isn’t running properly, it will diagnose why it isn’t running properly so that the technician knows exactly what needs to be fixed. No more trial and error.
4. Which jobs and business sectors are most (and least) likely to be taken over by AI?
Right now, anything repetitive is most likely to be taken over. To a certain degree everyone has a job that has repetitive functions, so it will impact everyone. Customer Service is seeing a big impact, but those jobs aren’t disappearing, they are moving to higher value within the organization. According to the Technological Forecasting and Social Change by Carl Benedikt Frey, Michael A. Osborne jobs such as data entry, library technicians, accounting clerks, and telemarketers are most likely to be affected.
Engineering seems to be the least affected according to the statistics.
5. Can humans and machines be brought together in the workplace rather than being perceived as competitors?
Absolutely. What we need is “fusion” which is the combination of human and machine. When the machine learns something, the human must use creativity, emotional intelligence, and problem solving to take it to the next level. Humans need to learn to ask the right questions so that the machines can continue to learn. Since machines can process far more data than we can, we leave those time-consuming tasks to the machine. We take it to the next level. That is perfect fusion.
6. What are some human strengths and skillsets AI will never match in the workplace?
Never is a strong word, but at this point emotional intelligence is hard for some humans and particularly hard for machines. I know that Amazon Echo just announced that Alexa is going to be able to detect frustration in our voices. They are teaching machines empathy. But relationships with machines seem to be a bit far-fetched. We will need people to feel like we belong, that we are understood and who can understand nuances that are unsaid. According to Maya Angelou, “People will never forget how you made them feel.” Machines aren’t able to do this now, or anything in the future.
7. How can AI be used to improve someone’s business?
AI can be used to improve EVERYONE’s business. It can take away all the tasks that that the time each day. The repetitive tasks that can stop you from doing the brain work required to make a business successful. They even have AI to identify hot prospects (who to call) and what to say to get the sale. Once the task work is gone, the business owner can focus on how to grow, improve, and maximize the customers they do have.
AI is already in the movie industry, capable of writing a script that makes us cry, laugh, and respond predictably. Disney’s Up is a perfect example. CRM programs will be able to do the same. They’ll not only tell you who to call, but what to say to ensure you get the sale.
8. What should current employees do to keep their jobs?
Upskill. Have a look at what you do repetitively. Ask yourself if you can imagine a machine doing that (and be flexible!). If the answer is yes, ask yourself how your brain and problem solving can make it better. If AI can book a conference room, how can you make that experience better? What are the things that you know you can do, but you just don’t have the time? Use your creativity to improve your role, not eliminate it.
Stop being afraid of AI. There is so much negativity and refusal to learn. We need to be open to this technology as it isn’t going anywhere. Learn it. Put some smart speaker in your house, a smart thermostat, and light plugs. Get interested in where your industry is with AI. Don’t put your head in the sand and hope it will go away, because it won’t.
9. How do you see the world’s workplaces after 5-years, especially with the presence of AI?
I see us working more virtually and being very efficient and creative. I think that relationships will be the core value offered by companies and brands. The more they can preserve the relationship, the less likely you are to move to the competition. Since there will be more emphasis on the soft skills and relationships, you’ll have time to do that (because that will be the differentiator). We don’t have time now as we are too busy doing the “to-do” list of tasks. We will be ensuring that the automation is running as planned and getting things done. More overseer capacity. We will also be “training” AI to do their job. We will still be working long hours, but the work-life balance might be a little easier (wishful thinking?) as we won’t be commuting, won’t be task oriented, and will be more creative (which is better for balance).
10. What recommendations would you like to give those just starting their careers?
Your father’s style of work will not be your style of work. Constantly “retooling” their career. Once they learn something it will be virtually outdated (we’ve been this way for a while). Since this is the only life that young adults have ever known, they will be fine. The hardest hit will be those “stuck in their ways.” Once that generation (or the stubborn people in it) start to retire, the younger professionals will be able to make giant strides moving forward. They won’t hear “That’s the way it’s always been done” hopefully. But they need to be fully open to change, adaptation, and problem solving. If it works today, find a way to make it work differently tomorrow.
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