The 2018 World Economic Forum, recently concluded in Davos, Switzerland, brought together political, business, and cultural leaders from around the globe to discuss the future of the global economy and its foremost institutions. Gartner EVP Peter Sondergaard was on hand to take in the events and speak with influencers at the forum, where he observed a few key themes in discussions of the future of the workplace: The increasingly digital nature of business, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the impact technology can have on improving diversity and inclusion.
“It became abundantly clear that organizations have reached the point at which the digital workplace must be driven by both CIOs and heads of HR,” Sondergaard explained. This doesn’t mean technology will eliminate the need for people, just that employees will need to work in different ways and companies will need to offer guidance on how to do that. “Such changes will require new models of learning and development,” he continued, “as well as the creation of hybrid workplaces that combine technology and information to accommodate a mix of employees.”
Certainly, we have seen a wide range of technologies promise to reshape how the people and processes of the workplace operate, but artificial intelligence is the driving force behind the most groundbreaking offerings. It’s powering Google Jobs, wearable tech, analytical tools, and voice-activated tech such as Amazon’s Alexa, as well as the automation of processes from candidate sourcing to performance management. As a result, demand for AI talent has skyrocketed as technology providers are scrambling to keep up with the rapid rate of change.
While the rise of AI has fueled fears of the potential for a massive loss of jobs, Sondergaard is confident that AI should ultimately create jobs if deployed properly. “As was true of the Industrial Revolution,” he also pointed out, “technological advances as a result of AI will spur job creation. In 2020, AI will create 2.3 million jobs, while eliminating 1.8 million — a net growth of half a million new positions. Organizations will realize an added benefit as in 2021 AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion of business value and save 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.”
In addition to businesses implementing AI in a principled manner, the key for long-term labor market stability is going to be how readily available upskilling opportunities are for workers at risk of being displaced by technology. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon have all made efforts to become part of the solution, while the rise of online and microcredential education programs means workers won’t need to invest in expensive college or post-graduate degrees to keep up with the talent needs of the future. Government also needs to play a role here, either by incentivizing companies to launch these kinds of initiatives and apprenticeships or by reforming to public and publicly-funded education offerings.
“One thing is clear: We need much earlier to educate children on how to read and interpret data and the potential bias of code,” Sondergaard said. “For example, students today are taught to read literature from various perspectives. In the future, schools would teach children to view data and code via different lenses.”
Lastly, AI has potential to aid in corporate diversity efforts by curbing the biases that inevitably arise in a hiring process managed by people.
“Pushing for more diversity and inclusion is not just a responsibility, it makes good business sense,” Sondergaard added. “These successes have been proven time and time again. Yet, we still lack the diversity and inclusion required for the new digital era, which is expected to be more female and more ethnically and racially diverse.”
While AI and the emerging solutions coming to market seem like attractive offerings for companies struggling with diversity, there are many potential landmines, including the possibility of simply programming your existing bias into AI-driven candidate selection or employee promotion processes. At CEB, now Gartner, our Diversity and Inclusion research team has been looking into this challenge of algorithmic bias. Our position, which CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can read in full here, is that the burden of removing this bias is on the people developing the technology, not the end users on the recruiting team.