Daily Archives: May 14, 2020

When machines think for us: consequences for work and place

The one sure way not to forecast the impact of artificial-intelligence technologies is technological determinism.
By Judith Clifton, Amy Glasmeier and Mia Gray – Will artificial intelligence affect how and where we work? To what extent is AI already fundamentally reshaping our relationship to work? Over the last decade, there has been a boom in academic papers, consultancy reports and news articles about these possible effects of AI—creating both utopian and dystopian visions of the future workplace. Despite this proliferation, AI remains an enigma, a newly emerging technology, and its rate of adoption and implications for the structure of work are still only beginning to be understood.

Many studies have tried to answer the question whether AI and automation will create mass unemployment. Depending on the methodologies, approach and countries covered, the answers are wildly different. The Oxford University scholars Frey and Osborne predict that up to 47 per cent of US jobs will be at ‘high risk’ of computerisation by the early 2030s, while a study for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development by Arntz et al asserts that this is too pessimistic, finding only 9 per cent of jobs across the OECD to be

In a new paper, we argue that the impact of AI on work is not deterministic: it will depend on a range of issues, including place, educational levels, gender and, perhaps most importantly, government policy and firm strategy.

First, we challenge the commonly held assumption that the effects of AI on work will be homogeneous across a country. Indeed, a growing number of studies argue that the consequences for employment will be highly uneven. Place matters because of the importance of regional sectoral patterns: industrial processes and services are concentrated and delivered in particular areas. At present AI appears to coinhabit locations of pre-existing regional industry agglomerations.

Moreover, despite globalisation, national and local industrial cultures and working practices often vary by place. Different cultural work practices mean that, once deployed, the same technology may operate distinctly in diverse environments. more>

Updates from McKinsey

To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now
Adapting employees’ skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working will be crucial to building operating-model resilience.
By Sapana Agrawal, Aaron De Smet, Sébastien Lacroix, and Angelika Reich – Imagine a crisis that forces your company’s employees to change the way they work almost overnight. Despite initial fears that the pressure would be too great, you discover that this new way of working could be a blueprint for the long term. That’s what leaders of many companies around the globe are finding as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Consider the experience of one pharma company with more than 10,000 sales reps. In February, it switched from an offline model to a 100 percent remote-working one. As the containment phase of the crisis gradually recedes, you might expect remote working to fade as well. However, the company now plans to make a 30 percent-online–70 percent-offline working model permanent, thus leveraging the freshly developed skills of its sales reps.

Even before the current crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them. In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers—or 14 percent of the global workforce—would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem.

The coronavirus pandemic has made this question more urgent. Workers across industries must figure out how they can adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and companies have to learn how to match those workers to new roles and activities. This dynamic is about more than remote working—or the role of automation and AI. It’s about how leaders can reskill and upskill the workforce to deliver new business models in the post-pandemic era.

To meet this challenge, companies should craft a talent strategy that develops employees’ critical digital and cognitive capabilities, their social and emotional skills, and their adaptability and resilience. Now is the time for companies to double down on their learning budgets and commit to reskilling. Developing this muscle will also strengthen companies for future disruptions.

In this article, we offer six steps leaders can take to ensure that their employees are equipped with the skills critical to their recovery business models. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Interactive Tool Helps People See Why Staying Home Matters During a Pandemic
By Brittany Aiello – Social distancing has become one of the most impactful strategies in the battle to contain the spread of COVID-19, and a new interactive modeling tool can help people understand why it is so important to “flatten the curve.” Known as VERA, the artificial intelligence (AI) application was developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to raise awareness about why it matters that individuals distance themselves during an infectious disease outbreak.

Led by College of Computing faculty members Ashok Goel and Spencer Rugaber, and Design & Intelligence Laboratory graduate researchers William Broniec and Sungeun An, the VERA Epidemiology project uses AI techniques to empower users to build their own visual models that simulate the impact of social distancing. The project evolved from earlier National Science Foundation-supported research on a virtual ecological research assistant that enables researchers to explore “what if” experiments about complex ecological phenomena.

The beauty of VERA is that users do not need a background in complex mathematical equations or computer programming to explore it. A high school student interested in finding out what it looks like to “flatten the curve” can log in to VERA and investigate. A parent handling middle school science lessons from home can log in to VERA and demonstrate the reason that it is important that they do lessons from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

How to lead organizations through the COVID-19 crisis
By Gregory D. Bunch and Tom Gaines – Experts say they have no idea how the COVID-19 crisis will play out. Our usual ways of life have been disrupted, and we have all been thrust into a world in which intelligent and reliable predictions are difficult to make. We have been left questioning our basic assumptions, with very little sense of what will happen from day to day, let alone next week or next month.

Many organizations—from big corporations to nonprofits—suddenly find themselves facing existential threats. Facilities have been shut down, supply chains have been disrupted, and demand has collapsed. While this is all officially temporary, many organizations will not make it through the crisis.

The warfare analogy has been used by politicians, public-health officials, and the media, so it makes sense to look to military strategy for a sense of how to navigate. Military thinkers have described the battlefield as a VUCA scenario—volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We—an entrepreneur, and an executive officer with US Army Special Operations Command—have been working to translate these VUCA insights to a civilian setting, to help leaders think strategically during times such as these.

The process Major Gaines followed that night consists of three simple steps: get your people and yourself to safety, put your people to work, and enter your decision space. It’s only when leaders have done these three things that they can begin to focus on strategic thinking. These steps provide the groundwork for effective decision-making.

Strategy involves addressing primary and secondary questions. The first questions for a business to answer in normal times include: How do we grow, and, how do we win? But in moments of existential threat, secondary questions take priority: How do we defend? How do we stay alive so that we can win in the future?

This is a time to focus on defense first. This three-step process can help leaders improve the likelihood that their organizations will survive. Even if you have already taken one or two of the steps on your own, it’s important to keep the whole framework clearly in mind. more>

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