Automation and AI have long been under heated discussions - either as something overly praised or something people are skeptical about. By 2022 we’ve heard quite a few opinions from both sides, starting from more reasonable views and concerns to some unrealistic sci-fi predictions.
What is intelligent automation?
Intelligent automation (sometimes called business process automation) is the systematic approach to research, improve, or replace inefficient work processes through automation. Often enterprise automation involves robotic process automation (RPA) or artificial intelligence (AI) based solutions replacing processes and tasks previously done by skilled employees.
The replacement of human capital with automation has become one of the biggest topics of hype within digital transformation, leading to the question, “will automation replace my job?”
The hype around automation is justified but don’t expect enterprise workforces to change overnight. New technologies always take time to accept, get used to, and bring value. Coupled with people’s change resistance and risk avoidance, it takes time before people actually trust a new tool and get the hang of it. AI and automation have mostly been used hand in hand to achieve end-to-end automation; therefore, they’re mentioned together throughout this article.
Common myths about intelligent automation
Most of the prejudices concerning automation are not necessarily true, at least for the foreseeable future, with the current technological capabilities. Here are some of the most popular beliefs and biases regarding AI and automation that have been part of the discussions.
- Myth 1: Robots will take over my job.
One of the most influential myths around automation is the fear of machines taking over the tasks and processes people currently do and leaving them jobless.
However, more jobs and industries have been created in recent years than they have been destroyed, according to a study by Wharton. In fact, many industries have been experiencing labor shortages, and companies were forced to find ways to fill those positions at least partially with AI-powered help. Besides, resignations and job-hopping are at the all-time highest, with people choosing jobs and places to work and not the other way around. Although some people are affected more than others, on a larger scale, automation is creating more jobs.
- Myth 2: My role will become obsolete.
Even if robots don’t necessarily take over a particular job, employees are afraid that their entire roles and positions might become obsolete because of overall advances in the field.
In reality, entire roles don’t become extinct; specific tasks and processes do. Automation goes hand in hand with optimization, meaning that processes become leaner and simpler even before being considered for automation. Therefore, there’s a high chance that the job you’re used to gets modified. For example, accounting used to be primarily dominated by back-and-forth manual paperwork and other repetitive activities, whereas now accountants administer and monitor the processes that have been mainly automated. The need for accountants hasn’t disappeared, but their job requirements have shifted quite a bit.
- Myth 3: Robots will outsmart us.
Sure, robots might be faster, more consistent, and more efficient than us at doing certain things, but certainly not wiser. Even the most advanced robots can only do something they’ve been trained and programmed to do based on algorithms and past data. But we, humans, run them and figure out what needs to be done. The reality where robots communicate, feel, and behave like humans, is far away. Moreover, AI is still a relatively young technology that hasn’t reached its maturity yet so no robot invasion will happen any time soon.
- Myth 4: AI does things the way it wants.
This statement is pretty reasonable because most machine and deep learning algorithms lack transparency. People end up wondering why the software came to a particular conclusion and never find an answer because many AI-based tools lack explainability (the degree to which internal AI mechanics can be explained to humans.) This ambiguity raises privacy and ethical concerns and makes people worried. However, we should know that AI still does things based on how it was “trained” and the past data.
4 reasons why you shouldn't be afraid of intelligent automation
Now that we’ve talked about some automation-related myths and defined why they’re not entirely true, let's look at the more concrete reasons why enterprise automation is a blessing rather than a curse if and when used for the right purposes in the right way.
- Artificial intelligence is yet to become truly intelligent.
Artificial intelligence is good at processing large volumes of information - it’s fast, reliable, relatively objective, and unbiased. However, it’s extremely hard to transfer tacit knowledge to robots, and that’s one of the things that limits their abilities. Even with the rapid development of cognitive intelligence, AI is nowhere near people at making important decisions autonomously.
- Robots don’t substitute people; they augment us.
Let’s be honest; the comprehensive all-inclusive tools that can take over an entire position are not there yet. Professionals, at times, have to juggle many different technologies to complete a single process. Automation and AI cannot independently determine what to do, how to execute that, and when. People are the ones to combine many different technologies and make them work as one to achieve a particular goal. Even the most automated jobs need humans to manage the processes, change system variables when required, and look at the overall picture.
- Your job won’t be taken, but it will be modified.
AI has paved the way toward data-driven intelligent organizations, and they will require a slightly modified set of skills from people. Organizations will need technical skills for most of the knowledge work positions on top of the usual skills that the role requires. Openness to the new technologies and willingness to navigate and learn automation tools will be valued. As a result, jobs won’t become obsolete, but people with mixed capabilities will be valued more for those roles, so upskilling and reskilling will be a necessary part of everybody’s work life.
- AI needs humans more than people need them.
Can people survive without robots? It will be challenging, but more yes than no; that’s what we’ve done before the industrial and automation era started. Can robots survive without people? Probably not, as they need changes in the algorithm and reconfiguration every time something new needs to be done.
How to adapt to intelligent automation
Enterprise-level automation is not as scary as it seems to be. With a little bit of coordination and strategic thinking, it is possible to get your way around it without detrimental changes. Your job will surely be affected, but to make that impact positive and seamlessly adapt to enterprise automation, it’s necessary to learn additional skills and be more open to new technologies. There’s a list of the most promising and disappearing job roles across multiple industries at the moment, and this can tell a lot about where the job market is moving. The professions that will be in the highest demand are the ones that lead the change and lead the automation. The combination of practical skills, flexibility, and willingness to learn will be the key.
Top 5 jobs across industries in increasing and decreasing demand.
Source: Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum
Changes are scary but they’re for the better.
Automation is here to stay and flourish, and it will impact our jobs and lives outside the work environment as well. Changes to jobs are happening, and it’s inevitable. Today’s work environment is all about flexibility and life-long learning. Many manual jobs will be modified into automation-managing positions with people doing more creative and strategic tasks and controlling machines. The software will run first-order day-to-day operations, while humans develop and maintain them and do second-order work.
Automation does change the way we work, and sometimes changes are not the most pleasant things to go through. However, instead of focusing on potential changes and losses, we should focus more on potential gains. Automation is here to support us and augment our work so that we can find entrepreneurs within us.