Discussing Trends in AI and Automation
- August 12, 2019
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One of the great honors of being an executive and co-founder for a company focused on intelligent automation is being invited to speak and share with audiences at conferences and other gatherings. It’s an honor because I believe in the value of sharing what we learn with each other – through a blog post, through social media, but most importantly, in person, in the room.
Not too long ago, North Highland invited me to join them for a panel discussion on many topics around automation and artificial intelligence, for the benefit of Wharton alumni, at the North Highland offices in Manhattan.
What I love about a good panel in a smaller room like this is the interaction – it’s almost all Q&A and interaction with the audience. One of the central points up for discussion is how disruptive will AI be to employment. Obviously there are economists and experts on these subjects, but it is hard to find an economist who is also an expert on AI, and labor markets, who puts it all together.
I don’t have the definitive answers, but I would posit a few things.
- Not all automation is created equal. We’ve all experienced “bad” automation when we get lost in “automated receptionist” menus.
- But not all automation clearly affects jobs. Our phones can now read out and show our turn-by-turn navigation directions from point to destination, fully automated… but it doesn’t replace any jobs, per se. It does eliminate the need to pull over to the side of the road and consult a map (for the most part).
- How many of us are going home each day with all of our work complete, or going home Friday with nothing left over that should have been finished.
- For the most part, automation affects percentages of jobs, rather than fully replacing a job. Still, for big teams, this can affect employment. A smaller number of people can get the work done. In my experience, there is usually a balance between workforce reduction, and job description evolution.
- There are many jobs in which we expect people to act not much better than robots. It seems like an inhumane way to treat our team members and coworkers. If we can reduce the robotic work , we can make space for the creative, the proactive.
On balance, there’s a positive story for what artificial intelligence and automation can do to augment our lifestyles and businesses. But there’s also, clearly, negative risks to both. It’s up to both business *and* technical leaders to chart a course that balances these risks and side effects.
At least some companies have elected to take on the topic, tongue-in-cheek:
On my way back to the hotel from the panel discussion, I stopped in a Shake Shack for a bite to eat, feeling very New York. A few pictures taking advantage of the view!