In a world of bots, AI and big data, how can employees and businesses survive?

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution hailed as bringing about a digital boom on the global economy, many may think: “Are we not we already well into the digital economy era?”.  

It is true that there are now countless apps and computing technologies that allow people to conveniently hail a taxi, book a hotel, or clean floors with a robot. Smart machines can also already drive cars, diagnose patients, and manage finances more effectively than humans. But in a new analysis – What to do when Machines do Everything – we found the real boom is only just beginning. 

In the years to come, AI will create further value, for example around safeguarding financial health, insuring families, and enabling people to heal and govern themselves – and this is just the beginning. Systems of intelligence, which combine hardware, AI software, data, and human input will help improve countless customer experiences, business processes, products and organisations.    

Jobs and businesses will undoubtedly be impacted. One of the most common concerns is that the bots will take over everything. While it is true that machines will replace some occupations, and make some current skills irrelevant as robots do more of the everyday, mundane tasks, people will also become even more vital to helping an organization innovate and grow.    

Machines are getting smarter every day and doing more and more; they will soon change our lives and our work in ways that are easy to imagine but hard to predict. The debate has, thus far, been in the hands of theoreticians: it is now time for pragmatists to take over. These pragmatists – whether companies or individuals realize that machines will replace some occupations, putting pressure on wages for some jobs and making some current skills irrelevant. However, machines will also enhance the human element of work. In fact, more than 80 percent of teaching, nursing, legal and coding jobs will be made more productive, beneficial and satisfying through artificial intelligence. While machines will learn to do more things, and will perform tasks more economically, more efficiently and with fewer errors, this will augment the human experience, generating more jobs, even creating professions that do not even exist yet.   

As we expect 20 percent of the more administrative portions of a job go to a machine, the future workforce will require more people to fill jobs currently in short supply: data scientists, designers, technologists, and strategists, as well as create jobs that do not even exist yet.  

Materials, Machines and Models - the formula to ‘win’ the Fourth Industrial Revolution   

The digital revolution is fundamentally a growth story. While the future of an automated workforce can be frightening, the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will create a huge wave of opportunity for businesses and individuals who are prepared. Typically, every previous revolution has followed such a pattern: innovation bubble, stall, and then boom. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be no different. Early digital economy winners have aligned the Three Ms – materials, machines and models – and use them to their advantage. 

Firstly, sensors will be required on nearly every “thing” – IoT devices, RFID sensors, accelerometers, motion sensors, etc. – to create massive amounts of data that is the new raw material of the digital economy. Secondly, systems of intelligence (machines) will be required to “process” this new raw material data to improve business productivity and customer. Finally, new commercial models will emerge that monetise services and solutions based on these systems of intelligence.     

However, without the right business model to support data-fuelled machines, companies will struggle to be successful. Business leaders will need to decide how to instrument everything, how to harvest all the resulting data, how to ask the right questions of the data, and to “teach” the AI systems what to look for, what is meaningful, and what is immaterial.   

Five essential plays for winning with AI 

Each of the Three Ms in today’s business success formula must be activated to move AHEAD. There are five distinct approaches for not only winning with AI but surviving and thriving in this time of transition – automation, halos, enhancement, abundance and discovery.   

1. Automation: Outsource rote, computational work to the new machine. This is how Netflix automated away Blockbuster. 

2. Halos: Maximise the data products and people generate – via their connected and on-line behaviours – to create new customer experiences and business models. GE and Nike are instrumenting their products, surrounding them with halos of data, creating more personalised customer service and products as a result. 

3. Enhancement: View the computer as a colleague that can help increase job productivity and satisfaction. For example, a car’s GPS system improves driver performance by enhancing navigation, providing alerts for road hazards, and ensuring the fastest route is taken on any given journey. 

4. Abundance: Use the machine to open up vast new markets by dropping the price-point of existing offers. For example, UK-based start-up, Brolly, has created an AI enabled insurance advisor to allow customers to understand, manage and buy the insurance they need. 

5. Discovery: Maximise use of AI to conceive new products, new services, and new industries. Just as Edison’s light bulb led to discoveries in radio, television, and transistors, today’s new machines will lead to the next generation of invention. 

The world is changing faster than ever before. Our children and grandchildren will study the advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, just as we studied the great technological innovations of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Automation and the rise of AI are truly deep and unstoppable forces – they are the core of this incredible pace of change. The shift to the new machine and AI is inevitable but if managed wisely, it will ultimately be a positive force for companies, individuals, and society. Leaders can compete and win in the next phase of global business by driving productivity, customer intimacy, and innovation if they align the three Ms and think AHEAD. 

It is time to build our own future, complete with a sense of optimism and confidence. When machines do everything, there will still be a lot for companies to do. It is time to start now or risk being left behind. 

Ben Pring, Vice President, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and co-author of What to do when Machines do Everything 

Image Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva / Shutterstock