Ready or not, AI is changing the workplace

empty-desks

Artificial intelligence (AI) slowly has been taking jobs from humans over the past few years, but AI soon will begin to create more jobs than it eliminates, according to tech research firm Gartner.

“Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025,” Gartner predicts. The firm said the impact of AI on employment will vary by industry, with healthcare, education, and the public sectors experiencing the strongest demand for workers, and the manufacturing industry sustaining the greatest loss of jobs.

“Many significant innovations in the past have been associated with a transition period of temporary job loss, followed by recovery, then business transformation and AI will likely follow this route,” Svetlana Sicular, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement.

The challenge for enterprises is to proactively prepare for the changes caused by implementation of AI technologies. That means anticipating 1) which jobs will be lost and created due to AI, and 2) how AI will change processes, operations, decision-making, and collaboration.

“Now is the time to really impact your long-term AI direction,” Sicular said. “For the greatest value, focus on augmenting people with AI. Enrich people’s jobs, reimagine old tasks and create new industries. Transform your culture to make it rapidly adaptable to AI-related opportunities or threats.”

Just “transform your culture.” She makes it all sound so easy! Nonetheless, the reality is that enterprises who fail to develop an AI/workforce strategy will fall behind competitors that embrace and carefully integrate AI into their business, just as enterprise mobile and internet laggards lost ground to their more prescient and nimble rivals.

For enterprise employees, the AI challenge is more personal (if less complex): How do you demonstrate value to your employer in the event that part or all of your job ends up being parceled out to AI-powered technology that can figure things out, make decisions, and take action, but never take sick days?

Advice runs the gamut from the general (get creative) to the specific (learn next-level technology, build a personal brand, develop emotional intelligence). Sadly, most advice about surviving technology-driven workplace disruption (including my own) sounds logical, but it’s also facile. Let’s face it, maintaining your relevance in the AI and automated work world likely will be far easier for some people (knowledge workers, entrepreneurial types) than others (manual laborers and unskilled workers). That being said, even highly skilled knowledge workers in narrow fields, such as stock traders and data analysts, can be replaced by algorithms.

There are no easy answers for workers whose jobs will be totally or partially displaced by AI and automated technologies, but there are two certainties: 1) AI is going to create massive disruption across a number of industries; in fact, it’s already begun, and 2) Enterprises and workers ignore this reality at their own peril. Anticipate and prepare.

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