Human-Machine Collaboration: Humans helping machines helps humans

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January 23, 2018
Human-Machine Collaboration: Humans helping machines helps humans
By: Payal Vasudeva

Payal Vasudeva, Managing Director, Accenture UKI Talent and Organisation Lead at Accenture

This week we're at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). This year’s event focuses on how we can best work together to create a shared future in an increasingly fractured world. At Accenture, we believe that a truly shared future is one where everyone has a fulfilling and meaningful role to play in the workforce. And as Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly central to business, this means building a future workforce that benefits people as well as corporations.

At WEF, we launched a new research study to help provide some insights about exactly how AI is likely to benefit organisations and society, and what enterprises need to do to accelerate change.

A true revolution

Our research shows that AI is at a critical stage in its development. Early adopters are investing in advanced systems capable of autonomously sensing, communicating, interpreting and learning. These capabilities change everything. They allow businesses to create new systems of human-machine collaboration; elevating human capabilities to new levels and helping unlock unprecedented value for enterprises and wider society.

These benefits will drive serious value: we’ve estimated that if all companies invest in AI and human-machine collaboration on the same level as early adopters, they stand to boost revenues by an incredible 38% between 2018 and 2022. But what’s more important is that wider society stands to benefit too: we’ve predicted that investment in AI on a large scale could increase employment by 10%, thanks to net job gains and the indirect lift AI technologies give to secondary forms of growth.

All too often new technologies are branded ‘revolutionary’; AI is one of the few to be worthy of the epithet.

Accelerating change through workforce transformation

However, if we’re to fully realise the AI revolution, then another revolution is required: that of the workforce. Today, people instruct machines. Tomorrow, they’ll have to learn the skills to interact with them, and take on higher value work in collaboration. Machines need to be seen as our co-workers, not our tools.

Success in the future will come from people continuously interacting with AI to improve it, assist it, and provide insights and guidance that only humans can give. And as AI becomes more intelligent, it will proactively offer insights and recommend actions that will require professionals to make informed judgments to solve increasingly complex problems.

The great misperception

However, our research suggests that even early adopters of AI are underestimating the capacity of their workers to adapt to this new approach to work. Our survey of 1,200 CEOs reveals that while 97% of respondents say they intend to implement AI to augment worker capabilities, only 3% are planning to significantly increase investment in training programmes over the next three years. There’s a real danger here that skills gaps will emerge that slow adoption of AI.

And it’s a danger that will be largely of businesses’ own making. Business seem to think their workers aren’t ready for AI. On average, the CEOs we spoke to think that only 26% of their workforce is ready for AI adoption. The reality couldn’t be more different. Most workers are willing and eager to learn the new skills required in the workforce of the future. For example, 67% of the 14,000 people we spoke to in our recent survey said they think it important they learn new skills to work with intelligent technologies.

What’s more, an increasing number of people are already well-used to AI. As consumers, many people now use Alexa at home to play music, or ask Siri to recommend restaurants. These people understand AI and are excited about it. They see that it improves their lives at home and want to see how it can help them at work by uncovering new insights and recommending actions they can take to make their customers’ lives better.

Getting on track

Over the course of this blog series I’m going to look at what businesses can do help elevate their workforce through AI. As we shall see, there are three key actions that businesses can take now to ensure they have a workforce fit for the future and able to benefit fully from the transformation taking place. In the meantime, you can download our full report, Reworking the Revolution, to discover more about this critical issue.

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