AI and automation are constantly changing our world, including the way we work. Take, for example, NASA's 1962 spaceflight. Back then, Katherine Johnson — the central figure in the book and movie "Hidden Figures" — famously checked the math of NASA's computer manually to put a spaceflight into orbit for the first time. Within just a few short years, though, that reliance on human intelligence has shifted to calculators and computers.
Today, the progression of automation seems almost scary due to the rapidly increasing sophistication of AI. The Forbes AI index shows that the volume of annual venture capital investment in AI is six times greater now than in the year 2000.1 These giant steps in AI capabilities may appear to uproot our assumptions about how work gets done but are really just a continuum of development. Understanding and harnessing this is critical to both the global economy and, on a deeply personal level, how we all make a living.
While robots can easily replace lower-level, routine jobs — such as the work done in factories, farms and fast food restaurants — new indicators emerge almost daily to illustrate how even white-collar occupations in finance, insurance, law and accounting are being automated, as well. If more than just physical and rote work can be replicated, and if human creativity, relationality and intelligence can also be simulated by AI at a more cost-efficient scale, then how will the average human worker possibly compete for work?
Leaders in companies of all sizes ought to be asking big questions about retaining the human elements of work, including emotional intelligence, people skills, judgment and natural genius. We need to examine how we retain those important human facets while taking advantage of the most effective tools at our disposal.
In preparation for the upcoming people disruption — probably reaching its peak during the next 15 years — organizations must understand the attributes needed to make work successful. Leaders need to start anticipating different future-of-work scenarios, including areas where human productivity, creativity and intelligence are matched or exceeded by artificial counterparts.