Retooling the workforce with "applied intelligence"

Human Resource Executive editor David Shadovitz says new research highlights the ways humans and technology will work together, for an overall improvement in productivity

Like it or not, artificial intelligence, machine learning and, robotics are – sooner or later – going to disrupt our businesses and workforce strategies. But not necessarily in the way some may presume.

One common narrative pertaining to such technologies is that they will inevitably lead to significant job loss. Some experts, however, believe that the situation may not be nearly so dire. Sure, they say certain jobs will be replaced by these new technologies. But, as is often the case with disruption, new, very different jobs will inevitably take their place. (I, for one, fall in this latter camp.)

In a new book titled Beyond Disruption: Technologies Challenge to Governance, Hoover Institute Visiting Fellow James Timbie points to the evolution of chess – and a new game called freestyle chess that enables human players to draw upon machine support – as a hint as to what the future might hold.

Timbie writes that the “human-plus-machine combination in chess is widely considered to play at a higher level than either humans or machines (on their own).”

Drawing from this example, he predicts that the best results in the workplace will most likely come from humans supported by intelligent machines – a combination of a doctor and a machine, a teacher and a machine, and so on. In the near future, he writes, “humans will do jobs (or portions of jobs) that machines do not do well, and work with machines in areas where machines have advantages.”

Accenture Chief Leadership and HR Officer Ellyn Shook recently echoed that sentiment during a session at the US Institute for Corporate Productivity’s 2018 conference.

Shook pointed out that Accenture is focusing its energies these days on what it calls “applied intelligence”: the intersection of intelligent technologies and human ingenuity. While parts of a job will no doubt be replaced by technology, she said, other parts of the job will stay uniquely human.

That’s where HR has the greatest opportunity to make a difference in their organisations, she added.

To make her point, Shook cited Accenture’s Reworking the Revolution research, which looked at the kind of impact applied intelligence can have on organisations, including a 38% increase in revenue, a 10% increase in profit and a 10% increase in employment.

Despite these impressive numbers, very few organisations are at a stage where they are taking applied intelligence and successfully scaling it to their businesses, she said, adding that most are now at the “education” stage of this journey.

Shook said Accenture’s research revealed that roughly two-thirds of CEOs recognise that technology is going to enable people to do their jobs better. Yet astonishingly, only 3% of them said they planned to invest in helping them work with the technologies.

Yes, you read that right: just 3%!

(Interestingly, the workers themselves were even more optimistic about the future. Almost 70% of those surveyed said they expected that technology was going to help them do their jobs better. Shook suggested that this optimism could be based on employees’ own personal experiences with these technologies in their everyday lives.)

At Accenture, Shook and her team are doing their part to upskill employees for the future of work. Employees, for instance, can connect to “digital learning boards” to tap curated content by subject-matter experts anytime, anywhere via their desktop computers or mobile devices.

(Shook will be participating on a CHRO panel at the upcoming HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas on Sept. 13 and hopefully will share more about her company’s efforts in this area.)

Reflecting on Accenture’s data and actions, I can’t help but wonder why more companies aren’t following in its footsteps when it comes to retooling their workforce, given how rapidly these new technologies are transforming businesses

I’d like to think more will be joining the ranks soon.


This commentary was first published by Human Resource Executive® magazine in the US. The author is David Shadovitz, editor of Human Resource Executive® and co-chair of the HR Tech Conference and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference.

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