It’s the end of the workforce as we know it

Red Ant, 8th April 2016

As AI brings radical changes to the way we work, soft skills, the ability to provide insightful analysis and tech know-how will become more valuable.

There’s nothing quite like the promise of fundamental change to cause polarised reactions across an industry. From Stephen Hawking to Elon Musk, tech leaders have been quick to predict the advent of cognitive computing and AI as the end of the workforce as we know it, while commentators including Fortune editor Geoff Colvin have a much more optimistic view of the future, believing that ‘learning’ computers will create more jobs that they destroy.

One thing we can be sure of is that the way we work with technology will have to change – those prepared to make that change will reap the benefits of a new, computer-assisted industrial landscape. Here’s an overview of what has to take place to ensure that today’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s technology.


From employee to colleague - computers will work with us instead of for us

It is generally accepted that computers do what we as users and developers tell them – the output depends on input, based on a prescribed performance framework. We use computers as tools to get the job done – put in a question and out comes an answer which we accept as right, no debate or discussion.

With cognitive and AI, users will have to adapt their approach and be ready to have an ‘ask’ rather than ‘tell’ dialogue with the technology – one which improves the quality and accuracy of the outcomes with each use. It will be vital to evolve into a symbiotic relationship – working with the technology to achieve the most desirable outcome.

Taking care of business - machines will handle more of our routine tasks

Progress in any walk of life necessarily involves moving on from outdated, inefficient ways of doing things.

The development of more intelligent machines will undoubtedly mean that mundane, repetitive tasks will become automated – it has already happened in the manufacturing industry and will soon be part of helpdesk/customer enquiry services, data input and other areas where computers can be ‘taught’ to quickly analyse information to provide accurate content to users.

The human touch – ‘soft’ skills will become vital for the services which computers can’t provide

The mechanisation of simpler tasks presents an opportunity - the development of a whole new industry focused on providing the soft skills which computers can’t provide.

They may be able to intelligently analyse billions of datapoints, but they are many decades away from being able to understand nuance, tone, body language and all of the other psychological facets which make us human. New roles will become available based on the provision of a warm, caring, human experience as a counterpoint to the mechanised elements facilitating our day-to-day lives

Circuit training – a different role for coders, programmers and developers

Cognitive computers are not programmed in the traditional way - they ‘learn’ to use data from a knowledge base, which can be anything from huge databases to training manuals to blog posts and social interactions.

The new role of the developer (and end user) will be to train the computer to give the best response in any situation, by giving examples or by responding positively or negatively to its outputs. Natural language processing – i.e. the ability to understand how humans speak – provides an intuitive and simple way to educate what is effectively a four year old child, albeit a very gifted one.

Knowledge is power - competence in technology will be an essential skill

It is impossible to emphasise enough how important technical skills will be for the workforce of the future. The government has introduced an education programme designed to equip students with the skills they need to compete in an increasingly technical workplace, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. As use of cognitive/AI grows, prospective employees will be expected to be fluent in the language of technology as a matter of course – it will be a core competency.

Change is coming, it’s inevitable and, whichever industry expert you decide to back, it is going to have a profound effect on how we work, rest and play. Embrace the remarkable advances in cognitive computing, make the necessary adjustments and watch the world of work evolve – it’s the only way forward.