How Investment in AI is Building the Augmented Workforce of the Future

March 6, 2018



There’s a popular belief that AI, machine learning, robotics and automation are joining forces in order to return greater profits for shareholders while wiping out essential jobs for humans.

While it’s true that the nature of work is fundamentally changing, the financial reality is that AI will add trillions to the global economy while breaking even on job losses by 2020 and generating 2 million net-new jobs by 2025.

Those projections come from the latest AI research by Gartner. Svetlana Sicular, Gartner's VP of Research, used the report to point out that part of the anxiety in the workplace is due to a loose application of terms in media reports.

"Unfortunately,” Sicular explained, “most calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation. This overshadows the greatest AI benefit — AI augmentation — a combination of human and artificial intelligence in which both complement each other." Gartner’s report concluded that by 2021, AI augmentation will add $2.9 trillion in business value to the economy and recover 6.2 billion hours of lost productivity.

Future AI Workforce: Intelligent Technology Meets Human Ingenuity

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) earlier this year, Accenture presented a window into the future of business in their report, Reworking the Revolution. They reported that for the average S&P 500 company, AI investment matching that of market leaders would bring back an average of $7.5 billion in revenues and $880 million in profitability lift, all while raising the world’s employment levels by 10 percent. Collectively, this future of stronger AI investments would pour $4.8 trillion into the global economy and stabilize markets on an unprecedented scale.

AI revenue and employment boost by industry


Surprisingly, workers are both optimistic and ready for the change, contrary to common belief. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of highly skilled workers and almost half (48 percent) of low-skilled workers said they have positive views of AI. They want to develop their own skills and work closer with intelligent machines. Millennials feel this way even more strongly than baby boomers (75 percent compared to 56 percent).

The revolution in the title of Accenture’s report refers to the fourth Industrial Revolution, one of the key concepts at underlying presentations at the WEF.

The first Industrial Revolution in the 18th century replaced animal-powered industry with steam-powered machines, particularly in agriculture, manufacturing and transportation. The second Industrial Revolution in the 19th century introduced electricity, assembly lines and industrial urban hubs that are still expanding today. The third in the 20th century was even more disruptive, kicked off by the introduction of computers, the internet, the containerization of logistics and the dawn of intelligent machines. We are now living through the pre-shock tremors of the fourth Industrial Revolution.

The new world emerging will be shaped by the vast processing power of distributed IoT devices as they merge with biological systems. The WEF wrote, “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous Industrial Revolutions, the fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance.”

AI + Humans = Value Creation

Businesses recognize value creation lies at the intersection of humans and intelligent machines


Source: Accenture Future Workforce Research 2017

Accenture’s findings outline precisely how market leaders are shaping the augmented workforce of the future with current AI investments:

  • 61 percent of senior executives think the number of work roles requiring AI collaboration will certainly rise over next few years.
  • 54 percent say that human-machine collaboration will be necessary to achieve their strategic priorities.
  • 46 percent say that some traditional jobs descriptions are already obsolete.
  • 72 percent of execs said that intelligent tech will be critical to their market differentiation.
  • A Japanese retailer deployed AI for real-time reporting on inventory, orders and returns, resulting in 39 percent higher profits and a 70 percent revenue jump projected through 2021.
  • An aerospace manufacturer combined AI structural designs with aesthetics by human engineers to produce stronger cabins that were 45 percent lighter, saving 3,180 kg of fuel per aircraft per year.

AI Brings Less Wasted Effort and a Better Customer Experience

An augmented workforce is one that relies on smart technology to handle all the most routine tasks so that people concentrate on providing the best possible customer experience. Augmented managers will be able to call on realistic forecasting numbers by cloud-based supercomputer brains and pattern-seeking algorithms to make more effective decisions on a daily basis.

AI is Driving our Future Workforce

The market leaders in this future will be those who invest in AI early and lay the foundations for that workforce today. Gartner's Sicular advised, "Now is the time to really impact your long-term AI direction. For the greatest value, focus on augmenting people with AI. Enrich people's jobs, reimagine old tasks and create new industries. Transform your culture to make it rapidly adaptable to AI-related opportunities or threats."

The pivot has already begun among the most successful businesses in each industry to transform workforces and equip employees to work with AI more productively and profitably.