“Robots and software don’t take jobs away,” he says. “Humans give them away. AI is a label that we use for several different kinds of software. Because of the label, we think of it as a replacement for human intelligence. But machine learning software is neither artificial nor intelligent.”
AI leverages algorithms to sift information and make stats, which it analyses more effectively than humans can. A failure to imagine new work that humans can do by leveraging this technology can lead to fear.
Bolles points to the latest automations as evidence: “The innovation is on the negative side of the ledger,” he says. “Managers in positions of power and decision-making feel pressure from shareholders to reduce cost, so we take human tasks that are messy and expensive, and we automate those. The business model has inevitable results. Those who don’t adapt and change the way they incentivise their companies may have good reason to worry. But there’s more opportunity on the possibility side of the ledger to help humans do better work.”
If power brokers agree that there needs to be a greater purpose to use technology to enhance human capabilities and to allow humans to learn, then the calculus will change. Companies that continue to operate under the old rules of work won’t benefit from the positive side of this disruption and will be continuously caught off guard.
“Many organisations are struggling with not enough workers, yet the managers don’t feel workers are going to have new skills they need to do the work,” says Bolles. “We must challenge this failure of imagination. Most workers are working far below their skill level. We should think about the workforce as a tremendous set of untapped skills.
Employers should be looking for a core set of soft skills and use technology to augment them: problem solvers, creators who can stay ahead of technology, adapters who can keep pace with accelerating change, and empathisers who can fall in love with the problems.”
Many industries are going through rapid change. Those that are safe are changing very rapidly. They are looking beyond the boardroom at all of their stakeholders: constituents, communities, employees, the planet – these are stakeholders as well. “If we recalibrate the way we think about how economies and societies work in terms of what our possible future might be, we will be better off,” says Bolles. “What is true is that we have all of the conditions today that we should be looking for in the future: open jobs, people who need work, people working below their capabilities. The real problem isn’t robots and software, it’s a failure of imagination.”
This article was originally published in the May 2019 ICT Spring Europe supplement of Paperjam Magazine.