“Humans are underrated,” Elon Musk wrote in light of a production lag at Tesla Motors. Musk claimed that the lag was due to “excessive automation” — that the company had relied too much on the rise of automation and not enough on humans.
What’s surprising here is that Musk wrote this about his company that’s in the auto manufacturing business, the birthplace of large-scale industrialisation and robotic automation. And yet, even at the beginning of the 21st century, we see that AI has yet to displace humans. Tesla’s robotic factory was in sore need of the human touch.
If humans are needed in the auto industry, they’re certainly needed in the information industry as well — despite the rise of automation. The truth is that AI is far more likely to redefine our jobs than to replace our jobs, just as other industrial and technological automation advancements before it. Automation allows knowledge workers to bring a human touch to their daily tasks and work. Generally speaking, it replaces tasks, not people. As AI and humanity converge, it will be to the benefit of the overall human experience.
This notion fits with our survey data of more than 2,000 workers across the UK in our 2018 Workfront State of Work report. In the report, we found that 91 % of U.K. workers say, regardless of how sophisticated AI becomes, there will always be the need for the human touch in the workforce. In addition, 77 % say the rise of automation will let people think about work in new and innovative ways, while 75% are excited to learn things as the workforce moves towards more automation. 65 per cent even say that automation will give them more time to do their primary job duties and 43 per cent say some parts of their job have already been taken over by automation freeing them up for more strategic work.
The Rise of Automation
It’s clear that generally speaking, people are optimistic when it comes to the topic of automation.
What’s also interesting is that the gap between what is automated today and what we believe should be automated isn’t as large as we might expect. Looking at the day-to-day aspects of their job, U.K. workers say that on average 30 per cent of those aspects are currently automated. Thinking about what should be automated, there’s a 10 point gap in the U.K. as workers say 40 per cent of the day-to-day aspects of their job should be automated.
In addition, 39 per cent believe that there will be a day when they’ll no longer have to work to meet basic needs as the rise of automation will do the work for them.
Congruent with the points above, Professor Manuela Veloso, head of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, “envisions a future in which humans and intelligent systems are inseparable, bound together in a continual exchange of information and goals.” She calls that exchange a “symbiotic autonomy,” and she says that this occurs when “[a] robot proactively asks for help when there is something they can’t do, they don’t know, or they don’t understand. That’s a very new way of thinking, that we are going to have AI systems around us that are going to ask for our help for part of the tasks.” Given that some of the first AI software programs were written at Carnegie Mellon, Veloso is someone worth trusting on this topic.
Of course, with all AI systems, there will likely always be something missing. These systems are severely limited in the scope of what they are programmed to do, they mostly are rules-based and cannot yet make true leaps of logic, and even with machine learning, it takes massive repetition to improve the machine system.
Coming full circle, there are places where AI can definitely improve the performance over that of the human today and should be allowed to do that. This, in turn, allows humans to focus their naturally creative and innovative minds toward the problems that are too sophisticated and intuitive for AI — curing cancer, writing that novel, customising the emails for the new campaign, developing new positioning for the company, etc.
Above all, workers today need a way to better automate task lists, templates, and assignments. This will spell all the difference in the lives of workers across an organisation. As more and more things get automated, we will spend time on tasks that only humans can do, which will finally empower us to finally fully inhabit our humanity. We won’t have to be preoccupied with the mundane or the repetitious anymore — tasks that make us less human. Instead, we will become more human. Because of this, the future looks bright.