Our collective obsession with job-stealing robots can cause us to overestimate the impact of automation — and obscure an important point about the human economy. What’s often missing in this debate are reliable facts and insights.
If we take a step back, we’ll realize that the reciprocal relationship between work design and employee performance is heavily influenced by the technology we use. Augmentation — the collaboration between human and machines — manifests in various ways across different job roles and industries. But the scope of this collaboration and the opportunity for impact on both performance and experience of work are still largely unknown.
At Automation Anywhere, we’ve always been intrigued by the way humans and machines work and interact with each other. This prompted us to delve into the semantics of workforce augmentation. An augmented workplace is one in which humans and technology come together to create something greater than either alone. Companies use technology to extend and enhance human capabilities in ways which make employees more productive. We were curious to understand the impact of augmentation — with artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) — on not just company performance but also on human workers’ lives.
Automation Anywhere decided to find out.
To do this, we commissioned a team of independent researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London to conduct what we believe is the most in-depth and authoritative research to date on the role and impact of augmentation in the workplace, both today and in the future.
The team started with a comprehensive survey of academic and non-academic literature about business automation in the U.S., India, Japan, and the UK. The goal of this global study was to find out how companies were using technology to augment their human workforce.
We then questioned leaders at some of the world’s largest firms about the extent to which they are humanizing their work environments to help people meet their full potential. More simply, we wanted to understand, are they making work human? We then looked at whether augmentation is having a positive or negative affect on this human experience.
Interestingly, we found out augmentation amplifies the human experience and strengthens the link between employee learning, growth, and engagement and organizational performance — globally.
Our very human future
One implication of all this is that for humans to succeed in the AI-powered future, we need to double down on our humanity. Technical skills will no doubt remain important in the future of work, but as AI allows us to automate repetitive tasks across many industries, these will in many cases take a back seat to soft skills. Communication, emotional intelligence, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and cognitive flexibility will become the most sought-after abilities.
I see a bright future for humans. In fact, I believe there will be plenty of challenging work for humans because of AI and automation, not in spite of it. Our imagination will carry us forward. It always does.