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How will computers change the roles of human workers?

Date: 29 October 2015

The advancement of computer technology has been well documented, with significant leaps being made within the IT and computer science sectors in the last few decades. With such significant advancements propelling the technological sectors forward, the emergence of advanced technology in other industries has been slowly gaining traction and as a result, computers have invaded almost every facet of our lives – particularly the working world.

This is leading to a number of debates taking place, based on the central concept that computers may one day displace humans from various roles.

In an article on the Financial Times website, it is noted that the vast majority (90%) of computer scientists believe computers will gain “superintelligence” by the year 2075 and be capable of outsmarting humans. In fact, this has already occurred, with IBM’s Deep Blue computer beating world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1996. This was the first time a computer managed to beat a reigning chess champion, and although it lost two games to four, in the rematch a year later, Deep Blue went on to win 3.5 games to 2.5 – indicating that it had learned and evolved.

However, despite Deep Blue’s win, it is noted that the machine wasted a lot of its computing power considering every possible move available to it during the game – even potential moves that made little sense. In this instance, the intuition of Kasparov was deemed advantageous.

It is the intuition afforded to humans that may well prove to be the one thing holding computers back from truly being able to outperform us; although IBM has released a new computer – WATSON – that the company says marks the beginning of a new era in “cognitive computing”, the question still remains as to whether they will ever reach the same cognitive abilities as us.

Just as with human history, the history of computers can be broken down into eras. We have moved out of the Dark Ages, through the Renaissance and so on to reach this incredibly connected, digital age. In computing terms, technology has moved out of the first era, where machines were used to carry out systemic tasks, and through the second era, where consumer-friendly applications were developed – such as apps in mobile phones and programmes like Microsoft Word on computers. In the third era, big data, helps computers learn, rather than relying on being programmed. This is the era that will eventually lead to the mass automation of various workloads – including knowledge work.

The automation of knowledge work will have one of the largest economic impacts around the world, along with other forms of “disruptive” technology. The 2015 Global Technology Innovation survey from KPMG, which questioned 832 technology business leaders around the world, found that AI and cognitive computing was ranked as being the top most disruptive tech to emerge within the next three years by business leaders in China. With this in mind, it is noted by Gary Matuszak – the global chair of KPMG Technology, Media and Telecommunications arm – that the most successful businesses will be those able to “integrate” emerging tech “with people to address challenges and opportunities.”

The possibilities for change in how knowledge work is organised and distributed – to either humans or machines – is altering the workforce. Automation of knowledge work can be used in numerous sectors – from administrative support and customer service, to medical diagnostics, fraud detection, customer insight acquisition and adaptive learning programmes.

With this in mind, recruitment from various sectors is having to adapt to the pertinent effects of this technology - balancing the need for such tech to help a business evolve in line with competitors, whilst also maintaining a happy and challenged human workforce.

With IBM opening a second set of headquarters for their WATSON computer in San Francisco next year, employers are already seeking out candidates with the skills required to work alongside this artificial intelligence system. The company plans to make WATSON the key operating system used for data-fuelled artificial intelligence applications, the NY Times reports; the computer will soon be capable of speech and language understanding, image recognition and sentiment analysis – bringing the concept of “cognitive computing” into the commercial realm.

With this in mind specialist companies in the San Francisco area, and across the globe, are looking for individuals with experience and skills relating to cloud, data science and artificial intelligence to truly maximise on the opportunities available to them from this disruptive – yet exciting – technology.

If you are looking for new opportunities within the technology space or looking to hire specialist technology talent, contact the Glocomms team today.