Humans and machines: a powerful combination

We’ve heard the stats. They’ve told us that the robots are coming to take our jobs. They call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. That’s the bad news.

But we often don’t hear about is the good news; about how machines will make us better at our jobs, or at least take over the boring tasks so that we can learn new skills and focus on the things the machines aren’t good at. They call it collaboration and skills augmentation.

Machines are already replacing humans in manufacturing jobs and in roles that are considered dangerous for us – like inspecting the stability of mine shafts. Nobody wants to do that, but drones thrive on it – and they do it better and faster than we ever could. While they’re scouting the scene, us humans are on safe ground, making decisions about what to do with the information the drone sends us. This leads to faster decision-making, higher productivity, and lower costs – the trifecta of business success. Most importantly, it could result in fewer – if any – lives lost in the event of catastrophe.

Loyal servants

At the moment, machines can’t fix or operate themselves. We may get to that point eventually but, for now, they still need humans to code them, tell them where to go and what to do, and troubleshoot. They need humans to analyse the data they give us, and to tell them what the next move is. Like a dog and a frisbee. We throw the frisbee; dog gets excited and brings it back; dog waits for us to throw it again. And again, and again.

With humans, the factory of the future can’t operate. The machines are a pack of dogs waiting for us to throw the frisbee. But with the guidance of humans and the accuracy of machines, the factory will be safer and more efficient.

More human than ever

This shift to a greater reliance on machines is giving us an opportunity to develop the skills and personality traits that machines can’t – and may never – mimic. Things like empathy, face-to-face communication, creativity, negotiation, planning and strategy, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, and entertainment. Machines will free up our time to focus on two things that are becoming the major business differentiators: customer service and innovation.

  • With machines taking care of paperwork, onboarding, character assessments, and payroll, human resource managers can focus on upskilling teams and understanding what makes individuals tick, to create a nurturing and fulfilling business culture.
  • With machines taking care of bank recons, payments, and invoicing, finance managers can focus on strategy, cost optimisation plans, and can study market trends to identify the business’s next move.
  • With machines taking care of the bulk of customer service queries, support teams will have more time to actually talk to customers – not about issues with products and delivery, but about their ideas about how our products can be tweaked to make them even better,

As more machines enter the working world, we’ll crave this authentic human engagement more than ever. The more we engage with and relate to other people, the easier it is to innovate and create better products and solutions.

Shift happens

Organisations and their teams need to adopt a massive cultural, procedural, and mindset shift to prepare for this future of work.

We’ve lamented the machines long enough. We now have a responsibility to prepare ourselves and our businesses for the unavoidable, by adopting cultures of continuous learning and upskilling. Individuals can no longer rely on a university degree and their organisations to keep them relevant in the future skills marketplace.

We’re all responsible for our own development and need to make an effort to learn more about everything. Be proactive. Read books, take online courses, listen to podcasts, watch TED talks. Develop a hunger and curiosity for learning, and an eagerness to exchange our knowledge with others. It’s the only way we’ll be indispensable by the machines.

We’re all going to be affected by automation at some stage. Rather than waiting around waiting for the inevitable, we can get ready for it. Spend more time figuring out how to get better at the things that can’t be automated and keep your eye on the prize: when the machines eventually take over parts of your job, you’ll have more time to focus on you, your family, and your passions.

And if that’s the trade-off, then bring it on.