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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

The Future of Work

Artificial intelligence is on the horizon and is set to change the way we work. Who will be affected and what skills can you develop to insulate yourself?

We are on the cusp of a potentially historic change. Artificial intelligence, in all its varieties and fields of study, is permeating our society and fundamentally altering how business is performed. Companies large and small are looking to artificial intelligence to fundamentally shift how they do business and how they can stay competitive in today's economy.

For Further Reading:

AI's Impact in 2020: 3 Trends to Watch

Choosing Augmentation Over Automation in AI

Free Up Your Data Science Team with Augmented Data Management

Some are questioning whether the potentially transformative changes will all be beneficial to society. They look at what this could mean to employees whose jobs are being displaced by the implementation of human-augmenting technology. Economists are split as to whether these changes will lead to large-scale unemployment or whether this is an evolutionary period for skills in the economy, as was the Industrial Revolution when the agrarian-based economy transitioned to an industrialized one. As we look back, we view this shift in a positive light, but those going through it had the same types of fears and concerns that employees have today.

As an individual, what can you do to make sure you are ready for the future of work?

AI Technologies to Watch

First, it is important to understand what technologies are leading the way for this artificial intelligence revolution and how these technologies impact jobs.

Computer Vision

What is it?

Computer vision is a field of study that teaches computers to see and process what they are seeing. This is accomplished by breaking images down into patterns of pixels and translating these patterns into classifications of objects. Once the computer can categorize what it is looking at, it can use this information to perform follow-on activities. Computer vision is the basis for new technologies such as facial recognition, autonomous vehicles, and visual anomaly detection.

What jobs does it impact?

Jobs that heavily leverage sight as a predominant aspect of their job -- especially when paired with repetitive processing based on what is being seen -- are most at risk of having all or part of their job replaced by computer vision.

Robotic Process Automation

What is it?

Robotic process automation is software that learns from a user's repetitive tasks and can mimic these actions after a period of training. This could include monitoring tasks such as keystrokes and mouse clicks that a user performs. In the background, as this software is monitoring user behavior, it is automatically configuring itself to continue with the same task or similar tasks in perpetuity. This automated processing of repetitive tasks can greatly increase the speed and accuracy of many business processes.

What jobs does it impact?

Jobs that require users to do the same task repeatedly throughout the day are most at risk of having all or part of their job replaced by robotic process automation.

Natural Language Processing

What is it?

Natural language processing includes multiple subfields, each focused on the interpretation and creation of text in a format that is natural to the way we communicate. This includes speech-to-text, text-to-speech, language translation, natural language understanding, and natural language generation. Like the way computer vision uses patterns of pixels to make decisions, natural language processing uses patterns of words to infer meaning and drive decisions from this meaning.

What jobs does it impact?

Jobs that use speech to accept or fulfill orders or provide services are most at risk of having all or part of their job replaced by natural language processing. With natural language generation, jobs involved in the creation of text content are also at great risk of having all or part of their job replaced.

Learning Resilient Attitudes

Given these technologies, what can we do to enhance our skills so we are prepared to evolve our jobs to a higher level as machines and automation replace the repetitive aspects of our work? Here are three approaches that are in high demand today that are resilient because they cannot be easily replaced by artificial intelligence.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is an iterative process that includes understanding users, their behaviors, and their journey through business processes; challenging existing assumptions and constraints that have marred their experience; and redefining problems to identify alternative strategies and solutions. The goal of design thinking is to find solutions that are not instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding of the situation but manifest themselves when patterns are isolated and viewed from different points of view. Design thinking includes empathy with your users, questioning assumptions, brainstorming new ideas, prototyping, and testing solutions.

Growth Mindset

People with a growth mindset subscribe to the theory that failure is not bad but rather is an opportunity to grow. People with this skill and outlook on life view the world differently than those with a fixed mindset. They focus on continuous learning. They learn from failures, feedback, experimentation, and the successes of others. They see challenges less as barriers to success and more as opportunities to discover new abilities to master. Those with a growth mindset don't fear the implementation of artificial intelligence in part of their job -- instead, they look at it as an opportunity to free up time wasted on repetitive tasks and focus on new learning, driving them to higher-value skills.

Digital Dexterity

Digital dexterity is the desire and ability to embrace existing and emerging technologies to achieve better business outcomes. It's a matter of both attitude and skills. This includes understanding how and where artificial intelligence can be implemented in business processes to drive target business objectives. Digital dexterity is tightly aligned with both design thinking and growth mindset and includes the identification and implementation of technology that can transform discovered ideas into reality.

A Final Word

As the economy is on the precipice of a revolutionary shift driven by artificial intelligence, there is significant anxiety and fear among workers. The threat of job loss weighs heavily on society. The best way to free yourself from this burden is to better understand what technologies are involved in this shift and what aspects of existing jobs they most threaten. Apply this knowledge -- acquire the new skills and aptitudes to ensure you do not become a victim of the shifting economy.

About the Author

Troy Hiltbrand is the senior vice president of digital product management and analytics at where he is responsible for its enterprise analytics and digital product strategy. You can reach the author via email.

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