#edGY: Humans + Machines = Your future workforce

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THE function of many a human resources department has always been just that: managing the people working for the organisation. But technology advocates believe that there will be a significant shift towards a more collaborative workforce, where people and intelligent machines work alongside each other.

Accenture’s recent report, Technology Vision 2015 – Digital Business Era, has some interesting findings on that front.

It discusses five growing trends in technology, including “workforce reimagined”.

In layman’s terms, “workforce reimagined” is the collaboration of human talent and intelligent technology that presents companies worldwide with the opportunity to achieve better results and address bigger challenges.

A staggering 77% of executives surveyed by Accenture say within the next three years, companies will need to look into “training” their machines as much as they do their staff.

“We are starting to see humans and machines interact in a completely different way,” Nick Taylor, managing director of APAC Emerging Technology Lead, Accenture, tells #edGY.

“Essentially, it’s much easier for humans and machines to ‘talk’ to one another and have this human-like interaction.”

While it is true that for the last century, humans have been working alongside machines, machines of the future are going to function more as “partners” than as mere tools.

How companies can respond

Accenture’s report suggests that companies will have to start training employees to collaborate effectively with technology. In some cases, humans will even need to guide and teach technology as if machines are apprentices.

“Smart machines now have the ability to interact with, train and learn from humans, and this enables them to perform better over time,” it says.

“By creating a positive cycle of collaboration between humans and machines, enterprises can drastically improve the output of both and embrace the digital age with a reimagined workforce.”

A large part of this is due to the advancement of robotics.

“Advancement of robotics means that machines are becoming more capable of not only communicating with and augmenting humans but also working side by side with them,” the report says.

But this isn’t just a case of robots replacing workers, as science fiction movies will have you believe. Taylor dismisses the notion that humans will ultimately be replaced by robots and machines.

“I don’t think it would be enough to leave hundreds of thousands of people jobless,” he says, adding that he looks at it in a positive way.

“Having machines and robots will reduce the need for manual labour in dangerous and hazardous jobs such as heavy lifting, extracting oil and gas and mining.”

Smart machines and humans are better for different jobs. For example, machines are excellent at precision, scale and consistency while humans are better suited for creativity and contextual understanding.

“Now, companies can have a division of labour that caters for the strengths of each and appropriately distributes tasks to maximise the impact of both,” the report says.

Challenges and change

The main change is digital users are starting to see hardware and software become much more intelligent, says Taylor.

He adds that there will be a shift in how enterprises use technology given the dramatic ways in which smart machines can think and act.

However, there will still be many challenges with a reimagined workforce.

It goes without saying that in every venture there will be hardships to be overcome and this digital advancement is not one to be spared.

Taylor points out that the complexity of technology may initially be a challenge, as there will be various types of devices and solutions.

“I also feel the level of security will be one of the challenges to be overcome, especially when dealing with videos, health or security data,” he says.

He also predicts that there could be some resistance from those who are unfamiliar with technology. “Since most of the older generation aren’t very familiar with interacting with machines, it may be a strange experience for them — having a robot to tell them what to do.

“Imagine this: you’re at a hardware store and a robot comes up to you and starts talking to you in Spanish, and you being able to interact with it. That would be weird, right?

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This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 27 - May 3, 2015.