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AI-human fusion: steering the job market renaissance

Dr. Yossi Sheffi of MIT shares how AI is reshaping the workplace and uncover strategies to adapt and thrive in an evolving job market. Learn how emerging technologies support remote work, create new opportunities, and augment human capabilities.

Dr. Yossi Sheffi

Dr. Yossi Sheffi

AI-human fusion

AI’s inexorable rise in the workplace is causing much hand wringing over its future impact on employment. It’s impossible to know for sure what future workplaces will look like because in common with previous tech-driven industrial revolutions, this one will also create countless new job opportunities, most of which are still unknown.

However, we can get a sense of where job markets are heading by considering how algorithms are being wielded to reshape the workplace.

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Tech-supported remoteness

One of the most striking changes is the shift towards remote work. This was inspired initially by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the jury is still out about the extent to which the migration to home offices will become permanent.

But automation technologies and AI have played a key role in enabling individuals to work remotely, a trend that will likely continue.

The growing use of telecommunications, the internet, Internet of Things (IoT) sensing, and cloud services provide a robust infrastructure for heavily decentralized yet effectively coordinated human activity.

As a result, even the diversity of languages becomes less of a barrier to working together through automated language translation.

Technologies like these support almost all facets of remote work. For example:

  • IoT sensors provide remote monitoring visibility
  • Cloud apps provide remote access to data and functionality
  • Robots offer remote control of physical systems
  • Employee performance-monitoring systems ensure remote workers are working
  • AR/VR systems could provide better telepresence regardless of where workers are physically located

Individuals adept at using these technologies are well-suited to remote environments and hence better able to compete for these jobs.

Digital natives seem very comfortable with online interactions and prefer texting over face-to-face meetings and telephone calls (although they say personal interactions are essential). They tend to be comfortable and productive in virtual digital environments like the Metaverse.

This enables and even improves the serendipity of chance encounters – the utility of which has been one of the main complaints against remote work – because the constraints the physical workspace places on interactions are significantly reduced in cyberspace. Such encounters can be programmed to be random.

Firms face a trade-off between hiring only from the limited population within the physical commuting distance of the physical workplace versus hiring the best talent from the vastly larger pool of people anywhere in the world and dealing with them primarily online.

Brick-and-mortar outcomes

But remote work will only account for a portion of the jobs available in an AI-driven world, so how will AI be used to rethink the traditional workplace?

Experts differ in their forecasts about the future of jobs. The Future of Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum identifies 10 positions with the sharpest decreases in demand.

Many involve simple, routine administrative or physical tasks that AI and robotics can automate. Examples are data entry clerks, assembly and factory workers, and customer service workers.

Despite expected job losses through automation, many people might remain in these categories of jobs for several reasons.

For example, some people will be retained to handle complex work that cannot be easily automated or to manage exceptional situations such as events that fall outside the range of an AI’s training data (the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on businesses being a standout example).

The people most likely to retain these jobs will be the most skilled employees. An example is individuals with the experience to spot when a machine’s output does not make sense and what should be done if it is making a mistake or cannot handle a particular situation.

Also, as noted above, AI will create new types of jobs, and a proportion of these could be low-skill positions because the technology will de-skill the more challenging parts of some job types rather than taking them over.

Also, as noted above, AI will create new types of jobs, and a proportion of these could be low-skill positions because the technology will de-skill the more challenging parts of some job types rather than taking them over.

The aforementioned Future of Jobs Report 2020 lists the top 10 jobs with the sharpest expected increase in demand. Examples are data analysts and scientists, digital market and strategy specialists, and IoT specialists.

Most positions arose from the recent development and adoption of internet technology; many are jobs that barely existed 20 years ago. Each job category represents more than just a new type of job title and new sub-industries and ecosystems of software, services, and consultants.

Thus, these technology-intensive jobs are only the tip of the future employment iceberg.

But such lists gloss over the many changes that will affect jobs. Most jobs will likely make more use of data, online communications, and technology to provide visibility, enable coordination, and track outcomes.

Many office workers will use AI-based services such as ChatGPT and Grammarly to augment their communication skills by allowing them to auto-adjust their emails and work-related writing for clarity, tone, and professionalism.

And many workers will interact more with technological platforms such as portals for suppliers, business customers, human resources, and other departments.

Related: Lead a team through AI: an inclusive approach to change

These changes will improve productivity and increase the value that workers help provide to customers.

It follows that individuals with the foresight to gain and update relevant skills will be the ones who can compete effectively for the new jobs on offer.

The human face of AI

As these examples show, when trying to discern the future shape of the employment landscape, it is helpful to focus on how individuals – whether senior managers or subordinates – will use algorithms to improve their capabilities and productivity.

The most significant utility of AI will be in augmenting and enhancing these human capabilities. One of the outcomes will, naturally, be a change in the way people perform their jobs.

Dr. Yossi Sheffi is the Elisha Gray II Professor of Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics (MIT CTL). His recent book is The Magic Conveyor Belt: Supply Chains, A.I., and the Future of Work.

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