We are in the midst of yet another “disruption”. This time, it involves the disruption of machine learning and neural networks, better known as AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics technologies. Big corporations from banking (JPMorgan Chase), retail (Amazon) to automobile (Toyota) have already embarked on the AI and robotics adventure.
While not yet prevalent, AI and robotics technologies have been preponderating since 2012. Predictions on their exponential scale are supported by strong statistical projections. For example, McKinsey Global Institute in their 2017 December report pointed out that between 39 and 73 million jobs will be robotised by 2030 in the US, and approximately 375 million people could be potentially impacted. On a more positive note, Gartner Worldwide estimated that 2.3 million jobs could be created as a result of AI by 2025.
Regrettably, ongoing debates tend to centre on the concern of large-scale human job losses to robots (Frey and Osborne, 2017). Thankfully, however, Deloitte (2017), Robert Walter and countries such as the UK and US are paying attention to the effects of AI and robotics technologies on future human capital and their impact on traditional human resource management (HRM) practice. KPMG and Ernst & Young have further highlighted the influence of AI and robotics technologies in the workplace and the importance of HRM’s preparedness and embracement of the phenomenon in their recent discourses.
For the foresighted, one point is clear; there will be an exponential demand for AI and robotics human capital talents in the future. Forward-planning countries such as Canada have set up prominent AI research centres attracting talents from around the globe and recruited technology experts such as Professor Geoffrey Hinton and Richard Sutton to develop talents.
Given the critical role of HRM in ensuring that AI and robotics transformation experience is positive for an organisation, there is a need for HRM professionals to strategically address issues on how to manage HR managers who manage robots. For new talents, the main challenge for HRM is to recognise the changing HR expectations, identify and address the skills gap, and champion agile recruitment and selection practice. In the meantime, HR managers need to proactively engage with critical internal and external stakeholders in regard to the discussion surrounding the robotics phenomenon; one of which is to address the lack of domestic AI and robotics human capital talents.
There is no doubt that the shift of AI and robotics from being emergent technologies to mainstream is going to dominate the 2020’s. Just like previous technological revolutions, we are currently at the “adoption” stage of the technological curve. Typically, many issues pertaining to HR in relation to managers managing AI and robots remain to be explored. Perhaps an immediate HRM inquiry appropriate for further research will be: what are the challenges faced by HRM on managers managing AI and robots? (With a focus in relation to workforce intelligence planning, recruitment and selection, global shortage, training and personal development, and performance evaluation factors.)
Consequently, unlike automation managers (which monotonous and repetitive technology was first introduced in 1785 by Oliver Evans) or information technology programming, today’s AI (machine learning and cognitive computing) and robotics (service robots, robot-assisted procedures, and robotic process automation (RPA)) are multiplex and capricious. This leads to a very relevant question of: are managers who manage robots different from managers who manage people?. If so, then managers who manage AI and robots are a unique workforce who are not only sound in algorithms but also emotion so as to be equipped with human-like patience for machines. Nonetheless, holistic understanding on AI and robotic job environment and impact on managers is still lacking (Hislop, 2017).
The great Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” As most “disruption” phenomena are known to race against time, HRM needs to initiate necessary actions concerning managers of AI and robotics technologies. This should hopefully occur before AI surpasses human intelligence.
Dr Jason Cheok
Department of Management
Originally published in The Edge, February 2019