Home' HR Monthly : September 2018 Contents 6
ata about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics on
the future of work floods into our inboxes on a daily basis.
The first scary reports on AI and robotics started in 2013
when two Oxford scholars, Karl Frey and Michael Osborne, published a
report stating that automation would threaten 47 per cent of existing jobs
within two decades. Soon the Organisation for E conomic Cooperation
and Development and McKinsey Global Institute clambered into
this over-analytical crying game by stating that the loss of 30 per
cent of existing jobs by 2030 was closer to the mark. Not much of an
‘improvement’ to assuage mounting fears.
Fortu nately, more data is now becoming available on the positive
impacts of this digital revolution, as the importance of humanity
reasserts itself alongside those initially crude and brutally threatening
economic analyses. Fu rthermore, AI and robotics are moving away
from their intimidating, Hollywood sci-fi stereotypes and are being
regrouped within a new broader terminology known as ex ternal
intelligence (EI) – representing cloud, AI, machine learning, internet of
things, robots and related IT forms. EI advances are now recognised
primarily for removing repetitive chores and giving us more time for
valuable work and life experiences.
Google advises us that executive assistant bots are developing core
workplace skills in making meals, manufacturing memos and massaging
meetings into the right diary spots. Recent evidence indicates that these
EA bots are starting to demonstrate mini-emotions on the job, but
without recourse to major dummy spits.
Microsoft has developed an IT beast known as Marcel, a productivity
enhancer that sends daily updates on clients, suggestions for creative
activities, and reading recommendations. Marcel goes one step fu rther by
distributing new client requests to staff with the appropriate skills to help
the inward workflows, and marshalling the workforce into organised
bids for projects, and onwards to implementation.
Further big data organisers are being harnessed in many workplaces to
keep training content up to the mark. They are being used to spring-clean
business educational offerings based on crowd-sourced responses, and
to cross-pollinate work learnings for multiple users based on computer
knowledge of not only what each of us knows, but also what we should
be doing nex t.
To help us manage our lives under these emerging but relentless work
pressures, A mazon’s Alexa is available with its 3,000 skills to control
the lights at home, unlock the car and receive the latest stock quotes for
To make our lives as consumers easier, major brands are increasingly
turning to chatbots to offer 24/7 service and rapidly engage with
customers to answer their questions. That’s to be expected, as IBM
estimates 22 per cent of millennials now expect a response within 10
minutes of reaching out to a consu mer brand.
With this rush of EI-induced workplace productivity, one wonders
where the human element fits in. Are we all just content to be flying blind
as computers take over our lives and careers?
Two recent episodes indicate a right-sizing between man and machine
will continue, as humans do have core roles and skills not possessed by
Alexa and other bots.
A few years ago, a man nicknamed Sully overrode the computer data
in his cockpit and landed a plane on the Hudson River, ignoring flawed
computer advice that his 155 passengers and crew were about to die.
That event raises the question as to whose judgment will be trusted
when an automated pilot disagrees with a human pilot. Whose advice
is actually flying blind? Sully utilised sharp and extensive skills built up
over years of flying hours to deliver 155 people to safety.
There is a challenge inherent in this experience that’s likely to be stress-
tested for years to come on many fronts. While struggling airlines may
feel forced to save millions of dollars on staff training by trusting their
cheaper computers over more expensive pilots, even the tightest airlines
are scared of relying too much on E I in the sky.
In another case, last year the pilot and co-pilot of an Air India flight
left the cockpit empty so they could have a little stoush up the back over
a personal disagreement. Although the plane kept flying (thanks to a
computer like Star Trek’s Dr Data), the airline later fired
both pilots for breaching company policy requiring at
least one alert hu man in the cockpit. This incident
demonstrated a moral hazard inherent in the two
pilots’ subconscious encouraging them to take
time out for a mid-air pu nch-up. The episode led
to a strengthening of OHS air practices to prevent
a future free-flow of argumentative pilots leaving
passengers in an unmanned vessel.
These high-flying examples suggest decisions on
our digital future are not just about EI and
economics. They are also about societal
expectation and consumer trust. We
will accept the economic benefits of EI
on a broad front, but still insist humans
stay fixed at the wheel with eyes wide
open, for whenever that split-second
judgment is needed. •••
Human judgment will continue to be irreplaceable.
BY PETER WILSON AM FCPHR AHRI CHAIRMAN
To read past Perspective columns by Peter
Wilson, visit hrmonline.com.au
23/8/18 4:31 pm
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