We all know that in the last century automation led to significant shifts in agriculture and manufacturing employment, causing significant disruption and joblessness in these blue-collar sectors. Now that rapid advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have expanded automation to routine office tasks, some experts offer attention-grabbing headlines that tell us the same will happen to white collar jobs
There is no doubt that automation will potentially transform future white-collar jobs and the structure of the labor force. But will it be an all-encompassing “blood-bath” of lost white-collar opportunities? The answer is yes and no.
AI and RPA – One Author’s Viewpoint
“There’s a mismatch of job displacement and job creation. Job displacement is being driven at the speed of digital technology, which is explosive at this moment. And displacement is the business model for the AI geniuses and all those companies. All of them are hoping to get rich by displacing workers, not by creating jobs. Creating jobs is much slower. So, at least in the next few years, the displacement will outstrip the creation. But it’s not the direction of travel which is wrong. It’s just a mismatch of speed. I’m a pessimist in the short run, an optimist in the long run.”
There is no doubt that AI and RPA bring disruption to white-collar jobs, but it’s important to point out that most office workers are generally more flexible in their skill sets than factory workers were. It’s more likely that their jobs will change over time, but less likely that there will be mass unemployment. RPA frees white-collar workers from routine “no-brainer” type activities that are part of nearly every office job – the activities that we all love to hate, that are often supported by manual database searches and spreadsheet manipulations.
According to Baldwin, AI provides sophisticated thinking skills and certain types of pattern recognition to average-skilled people. Thus, AI can enable them to move up the corporate ladder into a new category of semi-professional jobs that falls between doctors and nurses, between lawyers and paralegals, between architects and draftsman, between lettered organizational leaders and skilled administrators. AI has the potential to make people a lot smarter without requiring a university degree to use it.
Understanding RPA and AI
Robotic process automation is the use of specialized computer programs, known as software robots, to automate and standardize repeatable business processes. These software robots mimic human activities by interacting with applications in the same way that a person does. As such, they are virtual business assistants, completing tedious tasks, freeing up time for employees to concentrate on more engaging, revenue-generating tasks. Part of the beauty of robotic process automation technology is that it offers even non-technical employees the tools to configure their own software robots to solve automation challenges.
These “bots” work directly across application user interfaces, mimicking the actions a person would perform, including logging in and out of applications, copying and pasting data, opening emails and attachments, and filling out forms. See our article Capture, Manage, Route & Automate Business Information for more details about Robotic Process Automation.
You probably use AI every day and don’t think about it. Every time you ask Siri to do basic math or select a song or check with Alexa about the what time to turn on the oven, you’re using AI, so it’s already impacting the way you live.
AI differs from RPA because AI is able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages, while RPA does not require the ability to “think,” but rather just to repeat a process over and over again. Both require computer programming to set them up, but the RPA program remains static over time, while the AI program “learns” by doing, much as people do.
See our article Is Your Business Future-Proof? For more information on AI and other technologies that businesses are adapting in order to ensure success.
As the world becomes increasingly more digital, businesses are faced with the choice of modernizing or ceasing to be relevant, and employees need to adopt the same strategy. Digital transformation is more important than ever for enterprises and people as enterprises we all face emerging competitors, pressure to innovate, and the need to provide real-time access to information.
An Intelligent Digital Workforce
A digital workforce is a scalable team of software robots and artificial intelligence that works alongside human employees to complete processes and analyze data so humans can focus on value-add for clients and customers.
Any business can automate. The wide variety of tools available on the market today mean that organizations don’t have to have a programming genius or a huge budget to add RPA or AI. This means that what employees need — at least if they want to remain relevant in a digital world -- is to take advantage of the benefits of enterprise automation by working with it to grow within their organization.