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Megatrend 2: Advances in AI, robotics and automation

Insight

30 August 2019

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“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”

When HAL 9000 said this in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, he represented the realisation of the greatest human fear about artificial intelligence (AI): that the minds we create will one day surpass ours, and begin to resent us.

A lot has changed since 1968, not least our expectations of AI and robotics. Now our worries are more commonly about whether AI will mistake a taxi for a dog or if a robot will trip on a curtain, yet underlying concerns about societal and ethical upheaval remain.

What effect will AI have on the workplace, and on wider society? Its applications reach much further than sinister supercomputers: speech recognition software, self-driving cars, chatbots and precision-manufacturing robots are all now possible thanks to AI.

AI and robotics have the potential to affect much more than we once thought, even if we are a long way from the ‘artificial general intelligence’ of science fiction.

What will this mean for businesses?

It has been clear for some time that AI, robotics and automation will take over many routine jobs such as data entry, call handling and factory work.

A more recent development, however, is that AI is also disrupting ‘knowledge’ work. In the financial sector, algorithms are able to carry out higher frequency trading than humans, and image recognition is leading to more accurate diagnoses of medical scans compared to clinicians.

Although technology might be destroying roles it’s not destroying work. New jobs are being created, existing roles redefined, and workers will have increasing opportunity to switch careers.

Removing the menial tasks from people’s roles might actually actually lead to more satisfying and fulfilling work; Dame Wendy Hall says that “when the machines take the repetitive jobs then we can use our creativity to think about new ideas.”

In the meantime, however, many professionals, particularly the middle-aged, will need to retrain for new careers.

Questions for business leaders to think about

  • How might AI, robotics and automation affect my industry?
  • Is my business in a position to capitalise upon these developments?
  • Are my staff ready to learn the new skills necessary to remain valuable?
  • Am I acting to mitigate the risks associated with machine learning (AI is only as intelligent as the data that feeds it)?

Further Reading

Lane4 special report: Navigating Digital Disruption

House of Lords (UK) report: AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?

Science Focus podcast: Why AI is not the enemy

PwC Global Artificial Intelligence Study: Exploiting the AI Revolution

 

Click here to learn about the other 13 megatrends.

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