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Accepting A.I. as Reality
The Employer Edition

Accepting A.I. as Reality

Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming a more prominent part of how we do business.  So what steps can we take as employers to make sure we don’t short-circuit?

16 years ago, Steven Spielberg made a movie called A.I., which was basically the story of Pinocchio as a robot. As a film, it follows half a century’s worth of science-fiction-based speculation about the implications of artificial intelligence one day becoming normalized in our society.

Yet, even in 2001, that concept seemed impossibly distant, evidenced by fantastical depictions of a world where cars can fly and robots feel pain. Well, aside from the feel pain part, here in 2017, we have all those things.

Artificial intelligence is already here. So the question really is how do we deal with it? For wishful thinkers, the answer is put it off. But for employers, the answer is three-part: cope, learn, and take action.

A.I. in Numbers

The term ‘artificial intelligence’ itself dates back to 1956, when a math professor from Dartmouth College named John McCarthy proposed the idea that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.” Ever since, the concept of a self-learning computer has taken off into wild fits of the imagination.

A few start-ups in the 80s tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to give robots a bigger presence in our reality. But not until late have computer chips gotten so good at processing data that we can get a glimpse at the true potential for A.I. With huge breakthroughs from Google, chipmakers like Nvidia, and Apple’ Siri, we are starting to see how A.I. effects everyday life.

One example of that is in how companies use A.I. to make business more efficient, and even how they find new employees.

Some companies have tapped A.I. tech to screen and hire new employees based on computer-analyzed video interviews and neuroscience activities. The upside is lower costs and human bias. The downside is bad candidates slipping through the gate by simply tricking the algorithm, or good candidates not standing out because their application was ignored by the computer’s search metrics.

But there is a bit of a ‘the good, bad, and the ugly’ factor when it comes to discussing how artificial intelligence will impact the job market.

The Bad

According to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum, an estimated 5.1 million jobs will be lost due to an ever-evolving marketplace by 2020 (and 7.1 million will be lost overall). Two-thirds of those jobs will be white collar office jobs, like office and administrative roles. Other labor markets facing increased job losses include manufacturing, construction, arts and media, legal, and installation/maintenance.

The Ugly

What’s worse is most people don’t accept the change that is already happening. As Pew 

Research Center reports, about 65% of Americans believe robots will eventually be able to perform the same work as humans over the next half-century, but 80% don’t think this will possibly affect their job in anyway. The truth is, however, if they belong to any of the job categories above, their job may be at risk.

A company called Blue Prism has already developed a type of “software robot” which can perform data entry tasks, making those parts of clerical/admin roles fully redundant.

Another company called Diebold is working on a type of smart ATM that can open accounts and process loans, effectively doing the job of a bank teller without needing a lunch break or paid vacation time.

This is what the robot apocalypse actually looks like in the first half of the 21st century: less rubble and skulls, more rampant job insecurity. Which is still pretty bleak. But fear not, there is a silver lining.

The Good  ↓

The Good

There will be jobs, lots of them, with some more needed than ever. In fact, an estimated 2 million jobs are expected to be created in the areas of computer science and architecture/engineering.

Amongst the types of jobs most needed are: data analysts, who can interpret data and glean insight from all the market flux; specialized sales representatives, to help explain new technology to unfamiliar or less technically-oriented clients and consumers. Also greatly needed are people in leadership roles, like senior managers, who can help navigate companies through massive industry changes and economic uncertainty.

Coming to Terms with A.I.

For the job markets that aren’t experiencing positive growth, it does get better. There are still numerous provisions businesses can undertake to stay operational in the new age—from offering retraining courses to your employees, adopting more efficient HR strategies, to diversifying your talent pool.

Adapting to A.I. doesn’t mean that you have to start readying your brainstem for cyborg assimilation. (Not yet anyway...) The solution is arguably much more painless than that.

In a recent TED Talk titled “The ‘Golden Era’ of Recruitment,” recruiting industry leader Greg Savage discussed the implications of A.I. in the recruiting world. In it, Savage basically says the staffing companies that don’t survive the new era will ultimately fail because they use technology wrong: they use it to make their job easier, but in the process, lose their most vital skill—their people skills.

Savage says, “We should embrace [new technology] and allow it to suck up all the drudgery and hack-work, so we can get better at the things that only human beings can do: which is the selling skills, the influencing skills, the persuading, the advising, the consulting, the building of reputation and brand.”

We are certainly living in a big bang of rapid innovation, and we will only continue to see more incredible achievements as time goes on. But as fantastical tropes from science-fiction start becoming our daily reality— smartwatches and voice recognition technology already fully ubiquitous at this point—if one thing’s certain, it’s that we needn’t lose our humanity in the process.

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