Franklin Valadares, CTO and co-founder at Runrun.it, an Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator startup
There have been discussions – regarding a subject that has generated worldwide concern - about the rapid replacement of people by machines in the workplace. According to some studies, the global wave of innovation in robotics has been destroying jobs faster than new types of employment have been created that can absorb the newly jobless human beings.
It is not just manual labor that is being replaced with mechanically stronger and more resilient machines. The latest wave of job substitution is linked to the emergence of increasingly intelligent machines that can analyze human activities and learn from them. A robot, for example, can produce much more accurate reports than human beings. The same happens with data analysis and even job recruitment, where companies are looking to fill open positions with the most suitable candidates. Machines are starting to be capable of activities with varying levels of difficulty, replacing people at many different levels of the corporate hierarchy.
According to a report by the consultancy firm McKinsey, about fifty percent of the work that people are employed to do has the potential to be automated. In the United States, this translates to roughly 60.6 million jobs. In the same report, the consultancy says that 25 percent of a CEO's time is invested in activities that can be done by machines, such as analyzing reports and data to inform decision-making. Our internal studies here at Runrun.it corroborate this. On average, customers report an immediate 25 percent increase in productivity for companies using work management systems. Automating human tasks, in addition to providing gains in efficiency and speed, reduces errors and avoids skewed analysis.
The financial motivations for replacing skilled, and therefore more expensive, professionals are even greater than for replacing employees who do repetitive and manual jobs. The estimate by McKinsey is that such a repositioning would impact a total of $7.5 trillion in wages. We are moving towards what the World Economic Forum calls the "Fourth Industrial Revolution."
The scenario may seem catastrophic, but humankind has already adapted to other waves of automation in the past – such as in the apparel industry. At the end of the sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I denied a patent for the inventor of the new sewing machine, believing that the invention would deprive many "young maidens" of their "daily-bread." In 1850, a group of New York tailors threatened to strike if their employer did not stop using sewing machines, which they believed would bring inevitable consequences for seamstresses. However, over 400 years and a great deal of automation later, seamstresses continue to be employed in the apparel industry.
In the 1950s, Ford automated more than 500 automobile manufacturing operations, reducing costs and leaving many carriage owners out of work. "The advent of the horseless carriage struck a deadly blow to the carriage industry, to harness manufacturers and even to the faithful horse, but it created many thousands of new jobs making, selling and servicing automobiles," wrote the New York Times. Today, amid conflicts between taxi drivers and Uber drivers, we wonder what our lives will be like with the advent of autonomous vehicles.
What history has demonstrated is that people whose jobs can be replicated by machines should direct their talents to activities with higher added value. Solutions created by artificial intelligence today seem more like super-tools that can boost our productivity in day-to-day tasks rather than something that will completely replace creative work. In fact, creativity and empathy are two human traits that algorithms are likely to take a long time to replicate, if that is even possible.
Our vision of the development of Artificial Intelligence is more optimistic than pessimistic. We imagine that businesses will be able to benefit greatly from the automation of all overhead activities, the day-to-day operational expenses that companies need to be able to focus on their core strengths. Those day-to-day activities are what we call the “boring part" of the job.
Imagine that someday in the future there will be no need for managers to tell employees just what to do. Machines will be able to prioritize activities according to company strategies, choose the most skilled and efficient professionals in certain types of tasks and make sure duties are fulfilled. Micromanagement’s days are numbered! The boring part of the job will decrease - people will not be paid to know what others are doing or should be doing. Algorithms will find the professionals, teams, software and companies that will best perform tasks. It is human capital management "on steroids." Machines will know who to train and whom to promote. Human beings will perform specialized, intelligent and strategic tasks for organizations.
At the end of 2015, Gartner spoke for the first time about the concept of "robo-bosses" in a report on technology in the workplace. Frances Karamouzis, VP of the consultancy's research advisory group, said at the time that by 2018 there will be no less than three million people being overseen by robot bosses.
An article by Bain & Company, published in April 2017, suggested that by the end of 2027 most professional activities will be automated or outsourced. The remaining positions will be critical to the organization. Most of the work will be on projects, executed by nimble teams. The teams will be self-managed, without permanent bosses, leading to a large reduction in the number of traditional managers. Instead, mentors will lead the careers of these professionals.
The British newspaper The Guardian went on to say that a robo-boss would be the best boss you could ever have. They are management machines, or, more specifically, job management software. Management machines have been around for years, but they are getting "pumped up" by the evolution of AI.
Soon, they will be distributing, tracking and evaluating the quality of tasks performed, and who performed them. They will be able to manage many projects at the same time, always using organizational guidelines. How? After a quick and unbiased review, the robot-boss will make any necessary decisions, unhampered by the ingrained opinions, insecurities and false impressions that are so common to us humans.
Robot bosses will most likely not have humanoid forms or make eye contact with the teams under their management, as we are used to today. But they will be an effective tool to avoid human conflicts, generate fairer assessments and point out those employees that deserve recognition.
Here at Runrun.it, we firmly believe that companies will have to embrace such technologies to be able to attain new levels of productivity and efficiency. It's what ERP planning did for finance. Work management software will do the same thing for time. That is what we are working for.