Do you believe that a robot will take your job?
If so, it’s high time to take another look. Evidence confirms that we should not focus on alarmist projections about the quantity of jobs displaced by intelligent machines. What matters is the quality of jobs. Here we indeed have important issues to address: Fair and equal access to meaningful, decently paid work is an important part of our identity and, of course, our prosperity and broader social wellbeing. Technology, if adapted and applied in the right manner, can be both the engine of growth and inclusion.
Technology does not destroy jobs
Take a look at the stats: at the moment unemployment rates are at historically low levels in many countries. According to ManpowerGroup, 40 percent of companies cannot find the talent they need. The challenge, though, is that inequality is increasing in most economies. Workers who have previously been considered part of the middle class are being pushed down to lower paid jobs. A middle-aged man with a high school degree in the United States makes 35 percent less than his father with the same education.
Value lies at the intersection of human and machine
What about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI)? The full promise of AI depends on humans and machines working together to develop differentiated customer experiences and to create entirely new products, services and markets. Why? Because, unlike previous innovations, AI can sense, respond and learn, as well as interact with people. Our recent research examined the financial value this can generate. If companies invest in AI and in human-machine collaboration at the same rate as top-performing businesses, they could boost revenues by 38 percent between 2018 and 2022 (as much as 50 percent in the consumer goods and health sectors) and lift global profits by a total of US$4.8 trillion by 2022. For the average S&P 500 company, this equates to US$7.5 billion of revenues and a US$880 million lift to profitability. They could also increase employment by 10 percent. See Figure 1.
Figure 1: The impact on revenues and growth if companies invest in AI and human-machine collaboration at the same rate as top performing companies
Underinvesting in skills
But there’s a disconnect that puts this potential at risk: Investments in intelligent technology do not match investments in people. In 2017, corporate expenditure in AI rose 60 percent over 2016 to US$ 12 billion and is estimated to reach almost US$58 billion by 2021.
However, Accenture’s research reveals that only 3 percent of business leaders in the ten countries we surveyed plan to invest significantly more in training their people in the next three years. This is a problem because history shows that the value of technology comes from people applying it effectively. No more so than with AI because its ability to collaborate with humans. In other recent research we conducted with the World Economic Forum, we found a significant difference between the best and the rest when examining a sample of 16,000 companies. About 20 percent get far higher value out of their investments based on a combination of investing in people and making their organizations more agile.
At Accenture, we are no strangers to the impact of AI on our own people. As new technologies automate some work, we are experienced at elevating the skills of those affected. In less than 18 months, we retrained 160,000 people in new IT. In total, we invest more than US$ 900 million per year in training and development.
Our approach underscores our view about the opportunities presented by AI and other intelligent innovations: They are not merely routes to efficiencies, but a platform for innovation, creativity and growth. However, the power of that platform depends on the business community matching its commitment to new technology with a commitment to developing human skills. After all, in the age of AI, human skills will be more – not less – crucial to achieving competitive success.