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Mixed messages on Artifical Intelligence

One of the first newspaper articles that I remember reading as a child was when Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977. It was memorable because for a small boy it was a list of all of the jobs that people could do in the late seventies that had not existed when the Queen had come to the throne.

Now it is 2018, the Queen has celebrated sixty-six years as head of state, and the list of jobs that people do now that did not exist in 1952 expands almost daily, as does the list of jobs that did not exist in 1977.

One of the main drivers for the changing way in which people work during the Queen’s reign has been technology.

Last week, the TUC published research which predicted that technology is now capable of not just changing the jobs that people do, but also the way in which they work. So confident is the TUC in the power of technology to make work better that General Secretary Frances O’Grady speaking at the TUC annual conference called for the introduction of a four-day working week so that workers and businesses could benefit from the automation that increasingly capable technology and artificial intelligence offered.

The TUC prediction attracted a lot of media attention, even my BBC local radio station invited me to speak on their breakfast programme about how a business might make a four-day working week work.
Later last week Henley Business School published research to coincide with their World of Work 2030 conference which suggests that the average British worker will be using artificial intelligence to perform enough administration work to create an additional 12 days holiday for themselves every year.

One of the conclusions that the article that I read in 1977 drew was that technology rarely reduces the amount of work, which is something that most Chief Technology Officers would probably agree with! What technology probably does do is create a different way of working.

This is what the World Economic Forum (WEF), have concluded that although more than of of all workplace tasks in existence at today will by 2025 probably be performed by machines the organisation which organises the annual Davos gathering of business leaders and politicians has published research which predicts that approximately 133million new jobs will be created over the next decade by rapid technological advances, approximately twice the number (75m) that those technological advances will displace.

It is a case of history repeating itself. During the Industrial Revolution workers feared that the introduction of machines would replace the need for their traditional craft skills, only to find that different sorts of work was created and the middle-class developed.

The WEF has cautioned that we must not assume that the advent of the artificial intelligence revolution will result in an automatic jobs boom. Klaus Schwab, chairman of the WEF has suggested that if countries and organisations are to take advantage of the employment gains they must create an educated and technology savvy class by making a much bigger investment in training and education, that will equip the next generation for the demands of an increasingly technological world. The WEF chairman also warned that there is an urgent need to provide training and education that will reskill people who have either lost or will lose work as a result of technological advances.

Just as the Industrial Revolution impacted the lives of manual workers the artificial intelligence revolution will impact white collar workers, people involved in administration type activities like accounting, data entry and payroll services. The risks to people in these types of jobs is high, more than eight out of 10 British businesses that participated in the survey are likely to automate this type of work in the next five years. Workers who do not have the skills to work with the new technology are likely to find themselves with a redundancy letter.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that a study by the Fabian Society and the Community trade union found that more than 6 million people across Britain are worried their jobs could be replaced by machines over the next decade.

Previously the Bank of England has warned that up to 15m jobs across the UK could be under threat from automation.

Despite the potential for artificial intelligence to create a jobs boom there is almost certainly going to be a lot of disruption to the economy and the jobs market from the opportunities that rapidly changing and easily accessible technology creates. I suspect that HR and people development professionals are if they want to stay relevant going to have to change the way in which they operate within businesses.

What can you do to find out if your job may be at risk from an artificial intelligence driven automation project? What can you do if find out that your job is at risk?

Find out the answer in this week’s free how to guide

During a career as a human resources and employee development professional that started in 1981 Michael Millward has worked around the world in a wide range of businesses from start-ups to major conglomerates. His industry experience includes, local and national government, manufacturing, financial services, retail, distribution, hi-tech, e-commerce.

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