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AI and Tech fears? HR to play a pivotal role

Nobody is safe, according to many scientists and technology gurus. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots will soon to be able to do almost everything better than humans and will take over most jobs, including that of a doctor, lawyer and other professionals.

Is the future really that bleak?

Professor Stephen Hawking has said that, “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Likewise, the Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, has claimed that “up to 15 million of current jobs in Britain” could be replaced by robots over the coming years as livelihoods are “mercilessly destroyed” by the technological revolution.

The upheavals could be immense – and if it is inevitable, governments should start thinking now about such concepts as a Universal Basic Income. However, perhaps after all the hype and alarmist talk, a reality check is needed.

So when will all this start?

Is the long-term outlook for jobs really as simple as increased automation leading to growing unemployment? What kind of timescale are we are really talking about and will we just sit back and watch it happen anyway?

Inevitably, scientists disagree as to when superhuman AI will change our lives forever. But many believe it won’t be this century, despite the huge rise of AI applications now emerging. So while robots are scalable, audit compliant, cost-competitive and easy to integrate with many network environments, they will still need humans to apply creativity, intuition and strategic thinking for a long time yet.

Among the many professionals wondering if AI will take over their jobs are HR directors and managers, especially as already some aspects of their work can already be automated.

HR will be needed to optimise the value of both AI and human intelligence

However, HR will also have an important role in shaping the workforce of the future, to optimise the value of both artificial and human intelligence – this increased automation frees them up to spend more time on this vital, strategic task. It is possible that, before AI takes over, we could use our human intelligence to find ways to prevent job loss and subsequent hardship and to do this, we need HR at the frontline.

It is true that many organisations that have automated core processes have been able to complete repetitive tasks more quickly and have achieved enhanced operational efficiency as a result. They have been able to achieve more accurate end results by reducing the likely human error count and reduced costs through completing the same tasks more quickly and with fewer resources than if carrying them out manually.

Automation is perfect for work that is repeatable and scalable

Robotics and automation may be useful interventions for work that is repeatable and scalable. In a payroll context, for example, robotic process automation (RPA) can operate at the user interface layer of applications and work between existing systems to mimic tasks that payroll administrators have historically done. The intention is to reduce total cost of operation while improving service quality and “calming the noise” of payroll errors.

But this enhanced efficiency does not necessarily mean that there will be less of a role for humans to play in the future, merely that their role is likely to change over time in order to adapt to rapidly evolving powers of technology.

HR will play a ‘pivotal’ role

The HR department will have a pivotal role to play in helping staff ‘skill up’ to take up these new roles and responsibilities and ensure that a company’s talent meets the needs of the organisation as a whole. That core function makes the interface between robotics and HR particularly significant.

Training staff has to be key to success in this area, according to Carney: “The commitment to reskilling all workers must be continual. Lifelong learning, ever-greening skills and cooperative training will become more important than ever as technology evolves.”

IT and HR will shape the future of work – HR need to take the lead now

Much of this training will be technical. IT departments will have a key role to play there of course but once again HR will also be critical in shaping the future, putting in place an approach in which intuitive technology helps older workers who may be less comfortable with upskilling themselves to share their knowledge with the younger generation.

Reverse mentoring, through which younger employees pass on their digital knowledge to older employees, is another useful technique. Together, these kinds of approaches can be key in building the understanding and awareness of employees and helping them strengthen their standing within the business in a new robotics and automation-focused future.

So while it would be foolish not to heed the growing importance of AI, it would be equally so to ignore its advantages.

We need a future where robots don’t replace humans, but complement their work, freeing them from the more repetitive onerous tasks. There’s a window now when HR could take the lead and help achieve this vision.

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  • 3rd April 2017
  • By Doug Sawers
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About the author

Doug Sawers,
Managing Director, SD Worx UK & Ireland

Doug is part of the Executive Committee at SD Worx, one of the largest HR & Payroll providers in Europe with presence in 9 countries, over 62,500 customers and 3,500 employees. Doug and the Senior Leadership team are responsible for the SD Worx UK & Ireland business. The main is to deliver innovative human capital management software and provide exceptional customer service to the UK and International markets. Doug is particularly passionate about engaging colleagues to ensure that at SD Worx we build a company with true global solutions to address our customers’ needs, build deep domain knowledge and regional expertise to accelerate growth across Europe.

Doug holds B.Acc. and C.A. qualifications, and hails from Glasgow. Having joined Ceridian in 2005 which was acquired by SD Worx Group in June 2016, Doug’s career history includes the roles: Group MD Operations at lastminute.com, Deputy CEO at holiday autos, and MD of Budget in the UK. He describes himself as an “escaped financial director who enjoys discussing how the human capital asset has a greater value than the net book version.”

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1 Comment

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Himani Sharma

Awesome and much useful information. Nice and detailed explanation.
Thanks for sharing this excellent info and tweeted smile
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