Pascal Bornet is a recognized expert and pioneer in the field of intelligent automation (IA). He explains that the impact of IA goes far beyond the context of businesses, as it also impacts people’s lives and our society as a whole.
We are living the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, brought along by connected and intelligent technologies, of which IA – Intelligent Automation – is a central component. What kind of critical imperatives will ensure the success of our societies’ journey with IA?
According to me, there are five critical imperatives that will ensure the success of our societies’ journey with IA in this fourth industrial revolution. These imperatives will be: evolving skills, sharing the wealth, rethinking work, reinventing education, and finally building a potential new society. Understanding and following these is essential to ensure that our societies don’t get caught out by a revolution that happens too fast, and of which the disruptions could have devastating consequences for the workforce and governments alike.
What do you mean by evolving skills?
Machines can build knowledge and acquire skills through a learning process. However only humans can generate real insight, one that involves gaining an intuitive understanding of something; today there aren’t enough people capable of such insight. Hence, I believe that the workforce needs to transition from “knowledge workers” to “insight workers”.
We can take reference from the past, where education programs such as the “High School Movement” which helped the US become the first economy in the world. Currently, creativity is what differentiates us the most from modern technology and hence what makes us complementary partners in the future of work. I believe that adaptability and “learning how to learn” and creativity will be the most important skills to acquire in the future.
What about sharing wealth?
IA enables economies to produce more with fewer resources, and one danger is that the productivity gains will not be evenly shared. Robert Solow, an American economist, described how wage inequality increased with technology, favoring skilled over unskilled labor. Inequality will continuously increase in the future. As IA is likely to require fewer but more qualified employees, a grim result of these developments is that the middle class, which is essential for a stable society, seems to be disappearing.
Some economists consider a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a potential means by which sharing the wealth created by rapid productivity gains can be achieved. UBI refers to programs that provide people with a regular income, regardless of their wealth or employment status. However even at a company-scale, some incentives should be installed to guarantee an even sharing of wealth, and more importantly, that unskilled labor does not get left behind with the adoption of IA.
How to rethink “work”?
According to a recent Gallup study, 85 percent of employees worldwide do not feel engaged with their work. This proves that work as we experience it today, and an aspiration to the 9-to-5 rat race does not seem to be part of our human nature. According to Jack Ma, in the near future, we should not have to work more than three days a week, four hours a day. These exceptional figures are a direct consequence of productivity gains that will be brought by IA within the next decades.
Indeed, why not take the opportunity offered by IA of potentially shrinking the human workload and use it to elevate society by changing the way we think about work? Work should focus on uniquely human activities, jobs machines can’t do. Singapore and South Korea are both actively re-training their workforce to move on from automatable jobs to ones that require new skills or an expertise that is under-represented on today’s job market.
What about reinventing education?
Education originally aimed to guide people to find their purpose in life. Sadly, today’s trade-oriented education aims only to give people the skills required to earn a salary, and I can’t imagine the future of education taking a different path. When we meet someone new, our first question is often “What do you do?” The answer given to us will trigger associations, as many of us have come to a point where we confuse our personality and our social status with our work.
Our educational systems don’t enable students to develop their natural creative powers. Instead, they promote uniformity and standardization over creativity and self-accomplishment. 75 percent of people today think they are not living up to their creative potential. In the classroom, we perform math or physics exercises, repeating them until we have learned the skill. Creativity is deprioritized and constrained in favor of prescribed classroom outcomes, yet I strongly believe we all have the capacity to be naturally creative.
How can we build a new society?
In the United Kingdom, two-thirds of those in poverty come from working households. In the US, the average wage has barely increased for the last five decades. Work is failing more and more people in our societies as a means of subsistence, let alone fulfillment. The idea of a society freed from what we call “work” today may not be prevalent, but it isn’t new. I believe our societies will need to redefine themselves in order to incorporate work in a way that allows our lives to be calmer, more equal, more communal, more thoughtful, and ultimately more fulfilled.
The impact of IA goes far beyond the context of businesses, as it also impacts people’s lives and our society as a whole. The five imperatives that I have presented could become the “IA laws” that any organization, society or government should follow. IA can help us move from a work-focused culture to a culture focused on humanity and values. It gives us the time to take care about the others, take better care of our planet, focus on our passions, and take advantage of our creativity. IA makes our world more human by enabling us to refocus on what makes us truly human.