Artificial Intelligence (AI), as the name suggests, is the development of software or computer programming that deals with robots or machines that imitate human intelligence to take cues from the environment and carry out a series of automated tasks. In the simplest sense, AI consists of lines of code aimed at assisting the humungous software applications and robots operated on mundane and repetitive tasks with high accuracy. Now with the machine learning and deep learning in place, machines now can learn and evolve itself (Helbing, 2017). Watching the rapid developments, many are of the view that AI, robotics and other advanced algorithms can replace approximately one-third of the jobs that exist today, by 2025 (Brougham & Haar, 2018; Frey & Osborne, 2013; Thibodeau, 2014). This prediction can be considered the first major HRM implication for organisations, which requires reflection. The doomsday imagery developed and speculated by the mass media, practitioners and academics often lead to urging prohibiting the advent of such labour destroying technology in the workplace. This approach, in our opinion has posed a serious question about the role of human resources management in future.
Since, it is generally argued that in the technologically driven workplace of the future, employing people in large numbers will be infeasible and uneconomical, and hence it is pivotal to understand the effect of AI and robotics on future employment systems. In our view, there is a need for developing a realistic picture of the organizational and industrial built-up and explore how the scientific developments with immense potential and workforce could co-exist.
The strategic role of HR is going to gain prominence, as the AI/Robotics driven machines absorb the repetitive and mundane tasks, some of them which traditionally were demeaning or posed high risk. Even now, the administrative activities of HRM like leave processing, employee notifications etc. are being performed by automated HR systems, which has enabled information-based decision making and increased speed of execution. Going forward by virtue of advanced level data and text mining, and iterations of machine learning, these systems should facilitate making the HR practices and processes of organisations more robust and data driven. Hence, the future role of HR would essentially entail to continuously analyse the future requirements of emerging job roles and develop systems and practices in alignment to meet the demands of technological advances. Both existing talent and those entering the workforce should be continuously adapted to the changing world of work. Thus, we can expect a spill-over of the HR function across various divisions and vice-versa in developing entrepreneurial human capital who will be able to develop solutions, and also work with the AI/Robotics applications.
As machines become capable of higher-level learning and computational abilities, there will be a shift in the job design and job requirements and thus a need for redefinition of job roles. For example, certain jobs like manual scavenging, mining etc. which involve high levels of risk and have proved to be hazardous for people involved in such activities may benefit from its application. When a Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) based company GenRobotics developed the semi-automatic robotic scavenger “Bandicoot”, elimination of the role of manual scavenger was perceived as a boon for the human workforce. There is requirement for development of skills for operating the robots, and for the optimum utilization of the technology. Thus, as intelligent machines perform certain erstwhile human-led job roles, the roles for the human workforce will shift to those that demand greater cognitive abilities and an inclination towards development of innovative and creative ideas. HR has a role in enabling change, in terms of skills, learning ability and mindsets.
The reconstitution of human workforce becomes an important part of the expected change process, since some degree of redundancy can be expected. As a part of our research we came across a company that had replaced about 15 employees by deploying a robot, and in the process about 10 of the employees were shifted to other verticals and 5 were eventually asked to leave the organization. However, the initiative also had its share of risk. When there was a machine (Robotic arm) failure, the entire operations stopped because the breakdown maintenance of the system, was handled by another company and it required some time to repair the system. Thus, in the myopic view, while substitution or workforce reduction might seem obvious, organizations might face a deadlock when the systems fail. Often, redundancy planning would require a spare system in place (either an additional robot or a team of human professionals) to provide the auxiliary functionality. In such scenarios, contingent employees who are skilled to handle machine maintenance and breakdown also become extremely crucial for the organization. Thus, many organizations are reconsidering job arrangement and employment contracts (Brougham & Haar, 2018) and as a strategy to handle redundancies there is shift towards the gig economy/workforce, or encouraging boundary less careers. Allowing mass redundancies of people, and externalisation of skills in the process of embracing AI/Robotics can prove to be risky proposition. HR will have the responsibility to ensure that essential skills are not erased from the organisational memory through innovative workforce deployment (gig workforce design, multiskilling, work sharing, skill banks etc.) and encouraging non-traditional career paths.
As the technology advances and the requisition of skills differ, the jobs would change their dimensions and demand varied and dynamic human capital. In the process, the traditional HR notions of work engagement and organizational commitment would also undergo a redefinition. Nowadays, the freelancers and other part time workers are associated with the skills and knowledge they possess rather than with an organization. The futuristic HR function will have to consider engaging tomorrows non-traditional workforce, working in a world where AI/Robotics perform tasks and also enable human performance. Thus, while we understand that while certain jobs are getting replaced by the AI and robotics, there is a creation of an alternative highly skilled, innovative and cognitive human workforce.
Ms Prantika Ray is FPM candidate, HRM Area, and Prof. Biju Varkkey is Faculty Member, HRM Area at IIM Ahmedabad.REFERENCES
Brougham, D., & Haar, J. (2018). Smart technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and algorithms (STARA): employees’ perceptions of our future workplace. Journal of Management & Organization, 24(2), 239-257.
Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2013). The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation? Retrieved February 18, 2019, from http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_ of_Employment.pdf
Helbing, D. (2017, February 25). Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-democracy-survive-big-data-and-artificial-intelligence/
Thibodeau, P. (2014). One in three jobs will be taken by software or robots by 2025. Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://www.computerworld.com/article/2691607/one-in-three-jobs-will-be-taken-by-software-or-robots-by-2025.html