The future of work is dependent on collaboration and communication

illustration of human robot collaboration

Growing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have raised concerns over employment, with fears that more jobs will be replaced by smarter machines.

Market research firm Forrester forecasts that “knowledge engineering” will factor into 10 percent of enterprise jobs. One-tenth of startups will have more digital workers than human ones, but the equivalent of 3 percent of today’s jobs will be created. In spite of the disruptive nature of the technology, the firm predicts human decision-making and expertise will remain paramount.

A recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) drew similar conclusions, suggesting only 14 percent of jobs were “highly automatable.” There is no real consensus on what the true impact of increased automation will be, but history and human adaptability may provide some clues.

Fear over increased automation has been common since the Industrial Revolution. The Luddite Rebellion (1811-17) was an early example where English textile workers wanted to destroy new machines that threatened their livelihoods.

A century later, the Ford Model T entered mass production in 1916. It wasn’t until the end of the Great Depression that vehicles overtook the horse-and-buggy as the primary means of transportation in both urban and rural areas of the United States.

Soft skills and expertise

business woman working on tablet and keyboard

For Sasa Nijemcevic, VP and general manager of the network and service management business unit at Nokia, there are many reasons to feel optimistic about automation.

“What we as a society value most is knowledge and expertise,” Nijemcevic says. “What we haven’t quite realized yet is that with this shift, not only technical skills need to change, but that collaboration, creativity and communication become more important.”

He argues today’s workforce is more agile and far more collaborative globally than any preceding it. Workers take for granted that they have video streaming and other communication tools, like apps, that simplify tasks people wouldn’t have otherwise done in the past. He cites the example of video conferencing, which would have required more equipment and staff to facilitate 20 or 30 years ago. Now you can do it almost anywhere using a smartphone.

Previously, big technological innovations that transformed or disrupted industries took two decades or longer to fully mature, buying time for people to adapt and understand them.

Humans need underlying soft skills to interact and develop with one another, and focusing on mundane tasks machines can do more efficiently gets in the way of that. He feels the lack of generational change is key to fueling the latest popular angst.

Previously, big technological innovations that transformed or disrupted industries took two decades or longer to fully mature, buying time for people to adapt and understand them. Technology is advancing faster now, across different industries, and in ways that are harder to predict, but Nijemcevic is bullish on prospects.

“When you think about it, look how much has changed in the last decade, whether it’s banking, medicine, automotive, social media — or almost any industry,” he says. “There are jobs today that didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. With automation, you simply free up time for more creative tasks, while automating others that humans aren’t typically good at anyways, such as repetitive and data processing tasks or things like that.”

Trusting in machines

two engineers work on a robotic arm

If machines perform all those tasks, then what is left for human operators to do? It’s the million dollar question many correlate to looming reduced employment. For Nijemcevic, the issue is more about trust.

Increasing automation will mean people have to trust the technology is actually working, he says. In the 1980s and 90s, graphics and user interface designers realized that adding status bars or various animated icons in computer software helped gain user confidence.

His point is that, while some jobs may have been eliminated by more efficient software, humans still needed to design them to work for other humans. That paradigm is equally relevant to the situation today, he says.

More people with expertise in user experience will get hired because, with less manual processes, we need to show more information to users as things get automated. A machine can’t decide or determine how a human will interact or respond to an automated process. Humans have to design and develop those things, thinking creatively about how to do it.

Sasa Nijemcevic

In other words, machines do or build things according to human input. Whether it’s a car, app, smartphone, software application or most things in between, creativity and collaboration are central to bringing them to fruition.

“Human factors associated with automation and the adoption of technology are more important than the technology itself,” he says.

About Futurithmic

It is our mission to explore the implications of emerging technologies, seeking answers to next-level questions about how they will affect society, business, politics and the environment of tomorrow.

We aim to inform and inspire through thoughtful research, responsible reporting, and clear, unbiased writing, and to create a platform for a diverse group of innovators to bring multiple perspectives.

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