By Frank Rizzo, Technology sector leader at KPMG in South Africa
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can no longer be considered the stuff of science fiction. In fact, it has evolved to such an extent that many companies will soon be using elements of it to streamline job functions – and this represents a significant opportunity for employees in the digital world.
AI brings with it substantial potential for the business to take previously laborious tasks and automate them. And while automation is nothing new, the fact that we are entering a phase where AI targets highly skilled knowledge workers is not something that business have had to address before. So, should South African employees be concerned that they will lose their jobs to AI and automation? There is no denying the fact that there will be an impact, but it is not in the way many think.
Knowledge workers are under increasing pressure to do more given the influx of data inside the organisation. Taking both structured and unstructured forms, employees must continuously learn to innovate and use the data at their disposal to deliver value for the business. All of this is happening in an environment where time is still taken up by numerous day-to-day tasks.
For example, responding to customer queries, performing administrative functions, conducting research, managing aspects of financial and legal services, and so on require people to rely on their intelligence and situational analysis to make decisions and take action.
However, advances in AI and automation means that methodologies will likely come to the fore, where technology can be used to take care of many of these standard activities. The benefit this provides both the organisation and the knowledge worker is that time can now be used more effectively to perform more mission-critical functions.
In many respects, AI is still in its early days, especially when it comes to a mass roll-out across businesses, irrespective of industries. Even though the potential exists, developers and organisations still need to find the most efficient ways of introducing these components into existing processes. In South Africa, where there is a significant rate of unemployment, some might feel threatened by this potential.
And yet, this does not have to be the case.
By using AI to automate certain job functions, the organisation can focus on empowering the employee with additional skills and knowledge required to benefit from the digital economy. By reducing the number of menial tasks, the organisation will be able to create new job functions (for example data scientist) that are designed to harness the potential of a connected society.
Of course, this will not happen overnight. As with any revolution, the fourth industrial revolution currently being experienced will incrementally change the way we work and live.
Industry 4.0 is predominantly focused on automation and data exchanges in manufacturing technologies. Today, focus will be given to reinvention and using technologies in new and different ways to be more efficient and cost-conscious. In reality, we can do very little to stop how technology evolves and how AI will become even more intelligent and intuitive. However, it is not going to be a case of ‘us versus them’. Instead, companies the world over will find ways in which employees will work in collaboration with AI and automation to capitalise on all available resources.