Magazine article People & Strategy

What Role Do Companies Play?

Magazine article People & Strategy

What Role Do Companies Play?

Article excerpt

Nearly every day, we see another news story or thought piece about how automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will change the way we work. Some of these stories are frightening in that they predict significant job losses associated with these new technologies. We hear stories about automation eliminating employment in whole industries--ranging from truck drivers (why have a driver when you have autonomous vehicles?) to lawyers (why have a lawyer when you can have an algorithm predict outcomes based on historical precedent?). Others take a more positive view of the future and think that that these new technologies will create opportunities for employees in labor-intensive fields ranging from education to child care to the arts.

Both sides of this debate are grounded in truth--automation, AI, and robotics will both destroy jobs and create them--but the debate itself misses the bigger issue which is that employees currently working in the jobs that will be destroyed are not likely to seamlessly transition into the jobs that will be created because the skill set differences are simply too big.

For example, look at the register-free grocery store Amazon is now piloting in Seattle. If this type of automated retail operation becomes the norm, it will kill a lot of cashier jobs. On the other hand, to run it, you will need different employees to design the systems, write the code, fix the machines when they break, and so forth. In terms of jobs created versus jobs lost, automated retail might be a wash, but will the cashiers who lose their jobs be able to write the code to run the robotics? With time, perhaps, but they are highly unlikely to make that transition overnight.

The debate should not be over whether automation, AI, and robotics will kill or create jobs--it will do both. The more salient question is: What role do companies play in terms of managing the parts of the workforce that are the most impacted by these changes? …

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