AI ‘can open up’ work opportunities

Artificial intelligence need not be a threat to future work, but should release people to do more useful and ‘human’ tasks, a future-gazing panel of employment and technology experts told a London audience this month. Julian Blake reports.

techxlr8 panelThe pace at which new jobs are appearing in technology could be faster than that at which old jobs are disappearing, Tabitha Goldstaub, the co-founder of AI market intelligence platform CognitionX, told a debate on the future of work this month.

“I just don’t think automation is going to take all of our jobs,” Goldstaub said. “Today our job as businesses is to make sure that we are looking for what those new jobs are going to be and then skilling our employees to make sure they can fit those. We talk about re-deployment rather than unemployment.”

Goldstaub was speaking at a ‘Future Talent, Future Leaders, Future of Work’ session at the TechXLR8 centrepiece event at ExCeL during this month’s London Tech Week.

“Why would someone be doing a job that a bot can? It’s actually a waste of their talent at an organisation,” argued Goldstaub. “If you think about the additional new jobs, whether it’s climate change, virtual farming, what we are going to be doing in space, that’s a whole new world of jobs out there that I think we should be thinking about first.”

London & Partners principal adviser Janet Coyle, moderating, said the world of work was changing rapidly, with millennials now changing jobs every two years, and the acceleration in AI and robotics meaning that China was now buying 160,000 robots a year.

“Technology is automating work at an unprecedented pace and level and it’s actually reaching us much quicker than we’ve ever anticipated,” Coyle said.

The future-gazing discussion also featured Emma Sinclair of Enterprise Jungle, boutique hotels business Mr & Mrs Smith founder and CTO Tamara Lohan, and Kathryn Parsons, the founder and co-chief executive of tech education provider Decoded.

Sinclair, who works with large corporates at Enterprise Jungle to track their alumni employees, agreed that AI could and should have a positive effect on the world of work.

Pointing to the power of technology to help with recruitment, she said “it’s a bit old-fashioned to talk about job boards and sending your CV in. You have these big job boards and they are a little bit spray and pray. That’s where AI comes in.

“Along with AI, we are able to intelligently predict who best to do the job, when you should recruit somebody that used to work for you who might want to come back and do that job.” she said. “For me that’s where AI technology is at its best.”

“Technology doesn’t completely remove the human element. But it helps make a more exact process, and allows people to spend time on things that really count. All these things are going to be automated and allow recruiters to focus on what really matters.”

Lohan, who has led Mr & Mrs Smith’s digital transformation as it has grown to a million-member business, said “it’s where the technical and the human meets that you get the magic.

“Initially we just did online bookings and actually then I realised that we needed a human touch. We needed to have people actually confirm and speaking to customers, because sometimes technology just isn’t quite there.

Lohan said many were predicting that automation would create job losses, but the firm was said her firm was looking at chatbots to relieve the pressure on their service teams.

“I am not looking at taking jobs away. I am looking to streamline these things so that they have more time and space to deal with the issues our customers have,” explained Lohan, “because that’s where their expertise and their humanness can be most effectively employed.”

“As a business we need to provide systems and training to enable our employees to work with technology,” she added. In practice, that meant allowing flexibility being able to route a call from the customer anywhere around the world “to somebody who is working from home at any time of the day or night, so that our customer service is second to none”.

Parsons, who leads Decoded’s education work with corporates and government, said: “You are not doing your job if you’re not learning every week.” It was increasingly “fundamental within business”, she added, to be digitally literate and learn skills that aren’t traditionally considered technical, including “problem solving, creativity, the ability to negotiate, teamwork and human skills.”

Asked to reassure any older employees who are becoming fearful for their future work, Goldstaub suggested people “start training a bot now, an Alexa or Google Home, using your voice to give instructions. There are some practical things everybody should be doing.

“AI should be a lot more accessible than the last than the last tech wave for everybody to get involved. I am actually hopeful that this is a tech that doesn’t leave anyone behind if we obviously do it right,” she argued.

Sinclair agreed, saying using Alexa more in the workplace or even at home gets people “to be a lot more relaxed about the technology behind the products we are using.”

Parsons said “you can transform people’s mindsets and skillsets and more importantly we need to” and “that is why we are seeing this learning revolution happening, both within business, within higher education, and well into people’s traditional retirement.”