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Augmented Workers: When Humans and Technology Collaborate

By Dick Weisinger

Automation. Robots. Algorithms. Technology is changing the workplace and how workers do their jobs. The fact that work changes isn’t new, but the pace that technology is changing work has picked up dramatically. Where the workplace change will take us isn’t clear, but it has sparked considerable debate.

On the one hand, one worry is that technology, especially technology that automates existing jobs, will lead to a dystopian future with large numbers of workers displaced by technology and without skill sets that lets them transfer easily to other jobs.

The other perspective is one of collaboration. There the prediction is that technology will take over drudge labor and also provide tools that that will make work more interesting and enable workers more creative and productive. Workers will work side-by-side with algorithms and robots.

Deloitte sees the collaboration between humans and machines as one that will create ‘superteams’ that work together to solve problems and create value. The Deloitte team, led by Erica Volini, wrote that “superteams hold the promise of enabling organizations to reinvent themselves to create new value and meaning, while giving workers the potential to reinvent their careers in ways that help increase their value to the organization and their own employability. For organizations that still view AI mainly as an automation tool to reduce costs, connecting their AI initiatives with their efforts to craft more effective teams is a first step toward enabling humans and machines to work together in new, more productive ways.”

Harvard Business Review concluded that “Most activities at the human-machine interface require people to do new and different things (such as train a chatbot) and to do things differently. So far, however, only a small number of the companies have begun to reimagine their business processes to optimize collaborative intelligence. But the lesson is clear: Organizations that use machines merely to displace workers through automation will miss the full potential of AI. Such a strategy is misguided from the get-go. Tomorrow’s leaders will instead be those that embrace collaborative intelligence, transforming their operations, their markets, their industries, and—no less important—their workforces.”

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