Intelligent Automation 

Our economy and society are now on the cusp of another technological wave, and if the experts are correct, this will be a technological tsunami and will have a massive impact at all levels of the society and the economy.

What is Intelligent Automation?

This technological tsunami will be Intelligent automation where information systems will modernize decision making by aggregating, extracting, and analyzing information – machine learning and AI.

Huge numbers of jobs or tasks performed today by humans will be removed by machines. Intelligent automation will automate higher order, non-routine tasks such as those that require critical thinking and creativity. Jobs and tasks that where “immune” to previous advances will be disrupted. For the very first time, white collar workers will be affected, perhaps more than the blue-collar workers.

There are 2 variants of intelligent automation – augmentation and substitution of human activity. With augmentation technology, certain tasks within a job will be performed by a machine or information system. This allows the person to focus on the higher order and generally more satisfying tasks. Unfortunately, substitution is the replacement of human activity with that of a machine or an information system. 

What does it mean?

This technological tsunami is already upon us. It is estimated that globally, 3% of business are currently implementing AI systems into their internal process and products. However, within 3 years, 75% of businesses are expected to be “actively implementing” AI systems.

In this brave new world, routine tasks are automated, and work performed by people will be continuously deconstructed and reconstructed, requiring the constant renewal and updating of skills. The education sector (high schools, vocational and tertiary institutes) will need to teach students those skills that software or machines cannot yet easily replicate. At the same time, these institutions must also provide students with a strong foundation in certain technical skills, which are likely to be required in most future roles.

This means that a combination STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and advanced soft skills will be best for workers, allowing them to apply their technical and uniquely human capabilities to their tasks and jobs.

Encouragingly, experts say that the net impact on jobs of AI, robotics and other automation technologies will be zero, as new jobs will be created that offset the elimination of older ones. This is probably the long-term view, with many workers going through a lot of short term pain. 

What does this mean for societies and economies?

The impact on societies and economies will be all-encompassing but patchy. Ironically, it is the lower-income countries with agriculture-based economies that are less exposed than middle-income countries typically led by rapid industrialization and with large manufacturing bases.

It is these middle-income countries that will find adapting to automation tougher than others. Currently these countries are focusing too much on preparing young people by training and re-training them for low-skilled occupations used in current manufacturing processes.

The businesses, schools and workforces will need to make huge changes in the areas of innovation, education and occupational skill development to remain relevant in the modern automated workplace. What has been done in the past, will simply not work in the future.

Some experts believe that it will be the lower-income countries that will be quickest to adjust and make the necessary changes. Often it is because these countries are not tied to existing technologies to the same extent as in the developed world.

It is possible that intelligent automation could help small firms and micro- enterprises to “punch above their weight” in competitive markets. It also means that there could be an expansion of manufacturing sectors in Africa, Asia or the sub-continent. It may also mean a “renaissance” of the manufacturing sector in places such as Eastern Europe or the US mid-west. 

What can I do?

The direction and pace of this technology and its impact will be difficult; almost impossible to predict. The one constant in this human / machine equation is the human-to-human transaction (H2H) - the need and ability for humans to communicate and work with each other.

These H2H transactions include communication, complex problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, negotiation, people management, coordinating with others and creativity. It is possible to improve your soft-skills with training and practice.

This continuous transformation of the work performed by people will demand a high degree of adaptability and determination on the part of each individual. Our goal must be to maintain our skills and workplace relevancy by continuing to learn throughout our working lives.

The challenge for the education sector is to enable workers at a later stage in education to continue their education. The sector also needs to be responsive to the training and re-training needs of the older worker. Unfortunately, the vocational education sector is weak in most developing countries and is not as responsive and flexible as it needs to be.

Ultimately, it is up us to take charge of our training requirements. With our career goals firmly in mind, we must continually scan the marketplace to determine what skills are required now and in the future. We must then have a plan to gain these skills and to continuously maintain the skills that we have.
Lifelong learning now has a new importance and a new urgency. 

What About my Job now?

Hopefully this 4-part series gives you a better understanding of what is likely to happen with jobs in the future. The future is notoriously difficult to predict but trends in AI, robotics, business and society are all starting to point to a similar direction. Our jobs and the tasks we do, are undergoing fundamental and lasting change.

(This series was inspired by the recent report by the Intelligence Unit of THE ECONOMIST – “Who is ready for the coming wave of Automation?”)

Unfortunately, many workers will become vocational refugees – people displaced from what they know, doing something they don’t understand and only with memories of what they used to do.

However, there will be those who will be able to adapt. The new job landscape will be challenging but rewarding. We will need to evolve - continually changing and adapting to match the new working environment. This can only be successful by understanding and continual training and development. Those of you who really succeed will take control of their training and development rather than waiting for their employer to offer training. Take whatever training is offered but you will need to be the one to drive the direction and pace of your development.

The Australian Broadcasting Commission of Australia (ABC) have the following very interesting website

This website is a joint effort of the (ABC) and the research house AlphaBeta who have tried to answer the question – ‘Could a Robot do your job?’ For literally hundreds of job titles, they have tried to estimate how much of the current tasks could be replaced by AI or “robots”. They estimate that construction and mining labors will be most affected with up to 86% of their job being replaced by robots. The job titles that will be least affected will be Contract, Program and Project Administration – only 7% of their job being replaced by robots.

Find your job title and see the effect that they estimate.