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Automation: Welcome The Future

One of our editors delves into the fast-advancing realm of Artificial Intelligence to analyse its staggering impact on our personal and professional lives. 

We are moving towards a world where Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be ingrained in every part of our daily lives. From highly personalised digital assistants and the Internet of things to self-driving cars, AI will descend on Earth and get to work, in fact, in some spheres it already has.

It is advancing at such a fascinating pace that it’s difficult to predict what shape it will take in the coming decade or even over the next five years. What we are certain about, however, is that it is here to change the way the world works.

So, what does automation mean for the common man? How is it going to affect us?

Whether you’ve realised it or not, AI, even at its nascent stage, is already making our lives easier. Almost all of us have a Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant at the tip of our tongues. The fact that AI will redefine productivity is therefore undeniable. What we need to do is recalibrate our perception of AI because the traditional ‘man vs machine’ outlook portrayed by the entertainment industry no longer fits the bill. Robots aren’t here to destroy our jobs but augment our abilities.

In an attempt to get a head start, several organisations worldwide are already leveraging cutting-edge technologies like machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and generation, the blockchain and more to automate their processes. JP Morgan, for example, has adopted a software programme called COIN, short for Contract Intelligence, which performs the herculean task of interpreting loan agreements and other contracts within seconds; a task which would’ve otherwise accounted for 3,60,000 lawyers’ hours annually. One can only estimate how enormous the benefits derived from such automation can be.

There has been tremendous activity concerning AI policy in different countries like the USA, UK, France, Japan, and China. In India, the NITI Aayog has crafted a national strategy to absorb this inevitable wave of change. Banks like SBI, Axis, HDFC have taken initiative and organised start-up accelerator programs, innovation summits, hackathons and much more to come up with solutions for both back-office and customer-facing purposes. A future powered by AI doesn’t seem as unthinkable as it did a few decades back. But the challenge is to promote adoption and further development of such technologies with democratic access, learn from the best of the world and build foundational R&D capabilities to encourage home-grown solutions and develop future talent in accordance with the changing needs of employers.

As innovation progresses further, it is but obvious that some jobs will be lost. But others will be created as well, which brings us to the question- what kinds of jobs? Are computer scientists the gods of the future? Certainly not. AI tools can be adopted by sectors including, but not limited to, financial services, healthcare, retails, manufacturing, smart mobility, transportation, agriculture, etc. What we need are AI-literate functional specialists, not only programmers. As these technologies seep into everyday work processes, functional specialists will play a greater role as experts in their respective fields and will be best suited to draw insights from what the machines predict and prescribe.

When we witness the transition of the kind of work we are required to perform- from mechanical and area-specific tasks to more meaningful work outside the purview of conventional roles, it is essential that we upskill not only the existing workforce but also their mindsets to ensure a collaborative and effective synergy between man and machine.

But, as is the case with any innovation, as AI permeates the way we work and live, questions on ethics, privacy, security and accessibility also emerge. While we fundamentally believe in the promise of AI, for it has massive potential advantages, it is critical that this technology is used to help people- that it is socially beneficial, fair, accountable and works for everyone. In Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 report, Michael Biltz, managing director of Accenture Technology Vision said, “While AI is by no means human, by no means can we treat it like just a program. AIs need to be trained and ‘raised’, to not only perform a task but to act as a responsible co-worker and representative of the company.”

It is safe to conclude that in the years ahead, automation is the way forward. If you don’t innovate, the kid in the garage down the street will.

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