Ever since the creation of the wheel, humans have been engaging with technology to make work easier. Fast-forward to contemporary times and it seems we are sitting on the precipice of the next revolution, where workplace automation in the form of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics are at the center of the movement. “Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term,” explains McKinsey & Co. “Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined, much like the bank teller’s job was redefined with the advent of ATMs.”
McKinsey & Co. suggests as much as 45 percent of activities performed by people today in the workplace will be replaced by automation based on current technologies. That represents about $2 trillion in annual wages in the United States, alone. Societal bias assumes low-wage and low-skill jobs will be impacted most by technologies replacing humans, but that is far from the truth. McKinsey & Co. discovered some of the highest-earning and highest-skilled positions will also be significantly impacted by automation. For instance, software programs will be able to sift through the tonnage of discovery documents for attorneys and generate summaries that cull patterns and detail better than humans. “Particularly in the highest-paid occupations, machines can augment human capabilities to a high degree, and amplify the value of expertise by increasing an individual’s work capacity and freeing the employee to focus on work of higher value.”
For managers, automation will have enormous impacts. Leadership will be required to redefine jobs and entire processes to leverage the efficiencies of automation. For instance, “the C.E.O. chores that could be automated with machine-learning software include analyzing reports and data to make operating decisions,” the The New York Times reports.
In an ironic twist, researchers today speculate that as automation and advanced robotics free us from the mundane tasks of everyday work, people will be unchained from the rote tasks to focus on the more creative aspects of his and her jobs – effectively allowing us to be more human. “We need to stop asking what computers can’t do and start asking what is it that we as humans will demand that we do with, by, or for other humans,” according to Fortune. That includes empathy, relationship-building and collaboration, all of which are very difficult to automate. For instance, a financial advisor or a mortgage lender will be able to spend much less time buried underneath mounds of financial data and focus more time understanding client needs.
Automation will require executives to get up to speed quickly in understanding the economies of these technological advancements. Part of that process will include deciding what the trade-offs will be for replacing certain tasks with technologies while relying upon human skills for other needs. C-level executives will need to completely reevaluate the needed skill sets for effective employees. Potential employees who can leverage his or her own creativity, emotions and human instincts will become much more highly valued in the near future than they are today. That may be a lot easier said than done because McKinsey & Co. found that only four percent of work activities in the U.S. require creativity at a median level of human performance.