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How will artificial intelligence shape the future of work?

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  • Picture of Michael Tjalve FRSA
    Michael Tjalve FRSA
  • Picture of Ross Smith FRSA
    Ross Smith FRSA
  • Future of Work
  • Technology

Artificial intelligence (AI) is developing rapidly and is already changing the world of work. Michael Tjalve FRSA and Ross Smith FRSA explore the role of AI in the workplace of the future.

Artificial Intelligence has experienced dramatic advancements over the past 5-10 years – even reaching human parity in certain domains, such as human speech recognition. Consequently, AI is applied in an increasingly vast range of areas and its impact is felt throughout society.

One of the key strengths of AI is its ability to automate processes that are repeatable and predictable, and to learn from variations within those processes. Jobs consisting of repetitive tasks are at higher risk of being replaced by AI, and AI is already rapidly changing the landscape of work.

Disruption or displacement by technology is nothing new. The nature of work is constantly evolving as technology advances. However, the scale, pace and impact of AI is unprecedented. McKinsey forecasts that as many as 800 million workers will be displaced by AI and automation by 2030.

Chatbots and the future of learning

Although AI is part of the reason for the displacement of workers, we believe that AI also can play a key role in countering this displacement.

With a rapidly changing job markets continually requiring new skills, future professionals will need affordable and accessible reskilling opportunities to remain competitive and employable in the workforce of the future.

Chatbots, powered by conversational AI, offer a new way of learning skills. One of the key values of the interactive, persona-driven chatbot interface is its inherent conversational nature and potential for providing a truly engaging experience.

Let’s take a look at an example of how this can work.

How AI can connect people with learning opportunities

Conflict has a profound effect on the lives of millions of people around the world. Education is widely viewed as the best way to overcome the challenges experienced by conflict-affected youth. However, conflict-affected youth have limited access to quality skills-training and academic courses, which restricts their opportunities for education, economic opportunities and personal development.

To help address this, we’ve built a chatbot-based experience to assist with discovery and access to online educational resources. Project Hakeem is a partnership with NetHope, University College Dublin, Norwegian Refugee Council, Lero Research Institute, and Microsoft – and co-designed with youth displaced by the Syria conflict.

There is an abundance of learning resources online from companies, academic institutions and non-profits, but they can be hard to find. Hakeem is built as a virtual learning companion which guides the user through the discovery process. It makes curated sets of learning materials, selected by subject matter experts and humanitarian organisations, visible and freely accessible to conflict-affected youth.

Built on top of Microsoft Bot Framework and Cognitive Services, the chatbot is built for scale. The fundamental value of Project Hakeem is to help connect people with learning opportunities that enable them to successfully achieve their life and educational goals, while encouraging lifelong learning.

We’ve seen the value that this kind of interactive and engaging learning interface can provide in the humanitarian context and we believe that the lessons learned from the Hakeem chatbot are transferable to the broader scenario of future of work.

The role of AI in the workplace of the future

As we look forward to rapidly increasing capabilities in computer vision, machine learning, speech recognition and translation, autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality – to name just a few – it’s clear that a new machine era is upon us. It’s important to be thoughtful and deliberate about how our roles as humans – in life and in the workplace – must evolve alongside the technology.

Learning new skills for the jobs of the future also means learning about AI. The most rewarding applications of AI will be when it is leveraged to augment human creativity. By better understanding what AI does well and what humans do well, we can integrate AI capabilities into our work environment in a way that respects and maintains human dignity.

More work is needed to study the role of AI in the workplace of the future. Moore’s Law (the general rule that computing power doubles every two years), coupled with the declining costs of this computer power, makes the world of AI a rapidly advancing field. It is now more important than ever for us to think about the future we can create for ourselves.

We can look back at a couple of the RSA’s more famous Fellows for inspiration on how to think about the future and how we use machines to shape this future. Adam Smith FRSA discussed machine specialisation in his 1776 classic, The Wealth of Nations, as a means of growth and prosperity for nation states. Karl Marx FRSA also talked extensively about the influence of machines on labour. If we think both holistically and creatively, as Adam Smith and Karl Marx did, we can shape our world.

Mark Twain once said, “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” And here we are, embarking on a new era that some are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And learning from past transitions, we’d like to propose a few key questions for consideration:

How can we best apply AI to address worker displacement?

How should reskilling be made available to the broader public?

What is the role of government, industry, academia and society within the development and use of AI?

How do we best prepare the students of today for the jobs of the future?

How can we put the most equitable conditions in place for reducing the risk of worker displacement?

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