The New Normal: How Automation May Be Coming for Jobs Sooner Rather Than Later

The pandemic has raised many questions about what the “new normal” is going to look like, especially since things like working from home and flexibility have become extremely popular in short order. Remote work was made possible by technology, which allowed for employees to collaborate and communicate from anywhere. These advancements have also seen technologies like machine learning (which is commonly referred to as AI) becoming more commonplace and being implemented in many workplace tools. 

Prior to COVID-19’s emergence, concerns about these technologies and their implications on the future of jobs were a major issue for workers everywhere - will “automating” technologies be able to empower workers and create a brighter future, or will they ultimately contribute to the loss of unskilled labor jobs? 

With people all around the country having lost jobs due to the pandemic, these concerns still very much exist. As companies slowly return to the workplace, they are once again being heavily discussed.  Management and shareholders are eagerly looking to replace jobs with AI and automation to save money in the recovery economy that, in many industries, was wiped out by the pandemic. 

While concerns about automation are valid in many cases, the same can’t exactly be said about AI. The situation is complicated, with automation and AI attempting to accomplish vastly different things for the future of jobs.

Automation has a very real impact on the future of low- and medium-skill jobs

While concerns about jobs being replaced by technology are and will continue to be valid, a misconception exists about the effects of automation vs. artificial intelligence. Put simply, one form of technology aims to assist humans in the workplace, while the other is attempting to replace the need for human workers. Where AI is an intelligent process that seeks to replicate human thinking, automation is an often unintelligent one that seeks to replicate, and thus replace, human tasks.

The effects of automation have been seen all around the country for decades, speeding up significantly in recent years. Everything from automotive plants and factories to grocery stores, hotels and fast food chains have been affected by automation, with new technologies being introduced which ultimately aim to replace low- and medium-skill jobs. According to a study by MIT, adding one robot per 1,000 workers reduced the employment-to-population ratio by 0.2%, with each additional robot added in manufacturing replacing an average of 3.3 workers nationally.

The argument for automation is always the same - automated machines don’t get sick, they don’t take time off, and they can’t be affected by things like global pandemics. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to intensify the effects of automation on these jobs, with workplaces looking for a solution that allows them to continue operating seamlessly even during times of crisis. With automation playing a more significant role in many of these industries, employers find themselves being able to do more with a reduced workforce, resulting in less low- and medium-skill jobs to go around - this number is expected to continue dropping as more and more industries begin to experiment with automation.

AI seeks to work with workers, not against them

Where automation looks to replace humans, AI looks to assist them. The majority of experts insist that rather than replacing workers in the near future, the introduction of artificial intelligence in the workplace will help them. 

Humans are essential to creating the inputs used by machine learning, and this won’t change for many years to come. AI lacks the creativity and awareness that humans possess, and that will continue to be the case for at least a few decades. Instead of replacing workers, artificial intelligence is being used around the world to help them, reducing the amount of time spent on time-consuming menial tasks and allowing them to work smarter, rather than harder.

AI has already made its presence known in the workplace, being implemented into commonly used software like Gmail, where machine learning generates suggestions based on your writing habits. It’s also been used to eliminate spam and block malicious Gmail attachments, to set meetings and suggest participants in Google Calendar and Hangouts, and to predict your needs based on usage patterns in Google Drive. These seemingly small tasks being completed by machine learning processes saves time for workers, letting them focus on the most important aspects of their job without being bogged down by time-consuming tasks.

Other benefits provided by AI in the workplace include the ability for salespeople to accurately predict customer lifetime value in CRM solutions, automate product recommendations for customers on e-commerce platforms, improve financial analysis, and enhance cyber security by detecting emerging threats. Aside from the benefits presented by AI, it can also serve as a major proponent for humans in the workplace. AI and machine learning processes are used in productivity intelligence tools, which solve the age-old problem of employers not knowing how engaged their employees are each day.

In an age where shareholders are often all-too excited about the prospect of replacing employees with automation for the sake of the bottom line, machine learning processes found in productivity intelligence tools like Prodoscore, which captures and measures data from dozens of workplace apps in real-time, could actually be a worker’s saving grace. Upper-level management will increasingly be asking managers which employees can and cannot be replaced by technology, and managers have to be equipped to intelligently answer these questions. Prodoscore enables management to produce reports with contextualized data that proves an employee’s worth, and makes the case for a workforce driven (mostly) by humans.

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