Human-machine collaboration presents workplace challenges

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The human-machine collaboration, expected to shape the future workplace, will present significant unexpected challenges within organisations.

This was the word from Ranjit Rajan, associate VP, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at IDC, speaking at the Huawei Eco Connect event in Johannesburg yesterday.

He discussed the opportunities and challenges artificial intelligence (AI) will bring about as more organisations implement automation and augmentation technologies to fast-track productivity and reduce costs.

The emergence of new working models built around human-machine collaboration will cause a significant change in the age of automation but poses some challenges, he noted.

"As more organisations create workplaces run by robotics, the AI agent in most cases will be expected to work alongside the human agent. This will present significant challenges around how human resources (HR) teams will enforce and assess things like key performance indicators and employee goals, which are aligned to the company's execution strategy," he explained.

"For many organisations, the relationship between human workers and machines will be one that will prove difficult to manage. Therefore, organisations will have to adopt an efficient approach in dealing with such issues, as well as other unexpected challenges presented by the man-machine collaboration."

A report issued by Accenture, titled "Creating South Africa's Future Workplace", found that over a third of current jobs in SA are at risk from technologies like robots, AI, machine learning and automation, with both white- and blue-collar workers' positions being in the firing line.

While there are fears that automation will result in significant job losses, experts say most jobs in the global economy will not be replaced by automation, but AI will rather pave the way for humans to work alongside digital agents.

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that between 400 million and 800 million of today's jobs will be automated by 2030 as digital platforms and other innovations change the fundamental nature of work.

However, the research takes a positive perspective, adding that while tech will replace some jobs, it will also create new positions that will require new skill sets.

"Technology adoption can and often does cause significant short-term labour displacement, but history shows that, in the longer run, it creates a multitude of new jobs and unleashes demand for existing ones, more than offsetting the number of jobs it destroys even as it raises labour productivity," notes McKinsey Global Institute.

A research report from Forrester echoes the results of the McKinsey study, saying while automation will displace 24.7 million jobs globally by 2027, new technology will create 14.9 million new jobs in the next decade.

Discussing the opportunities presented by AI, Rajan highlighted its core capabilities, such as natural learning processing, network analytics, machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and artificial neural networks which operate through cognitive platforms.

"What is critical for AI efforts to succeed is good data quality, and unless an organisation has good data, its AI initiatives will fail. There are many AI projects at the moment hampered by lack of good data."

Data quality, he added, is an assessment of data's fitness to serve its purpose.

"We believe that AI will become pervasive in organisations in the next several years. By 2030, all effective Internet of things deployments will have AI in them. Many organisations will use machine learning to leverage all the data from their networks to create useful insights.

"The use of AI in segmentation customer analytics is going to increase significantly over the next few years, and we will see the use of conversational AI such as chatbots increasingly gaining traction across all industries," concluded Rajan.

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