Perils and Promise: What Machines and Millennials are Doing to HR (Part 2)

Part 2: AI + HR = Promises and Perils

(Read Part 1 and Part 3)

This is the second installment of my blog series. We’ve looked at how changes in the workforce are changing HR. Next, we’re going to explore how a constellation of technologies will change the future of work and the very nature of human labor itself.

In 2016, I wrote a paper for Frost and Sullivan called “The Coming Age of Sentient Tools.” In it I explored what comes after “the next big thing.” You know the next big thing…it’s the thing that everyone is writing, talking, or worried about. In fact, there are a lot of next big things that are coming. Over the next 10 years, we will see a constellation of technologies moving into the mainstream that will have fundamental change on how we live and do business. They will especially effect HR.

Artificial Intelligence

The modern definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “the study and design of intelligent agents where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximizes its chances of success.” To be clear, I am not talking about machines that are smarter than humans or even Super AI. There are legitimate concerns raised by people like Stephen Hawking but this is an ethical, moral, policy, legal, and ultimately philosophical dissuasion. It is a discussion that needs to happen, but I am not a philosopher. I am a futurist; I work with people to build futures.

When I talk about AI, I am generally referring to “industrial AI”. This is the AI that lands our planes, helps us find a movie to watch, or the next book we will buy. It does work and it’s coming. Over the next ten years we will see AI move into more and more of our business lives. This move is filled with promise but there are also perils.

AI promises to streamline how we work, take over simple and repetitive tasks, and even discover insights in large data sets that are beyond human comprehension. It’s going to be pretty amazing. But with automation and the lack of human inside comes peril.

Internet of Things and Smart Cities

Over the next ten years, we will see the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities more into the mainstream. One way to view both IoT and Smart Cities are different sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin you have IoT, the ability to turn anything into a computer. Essentially, if you can find a reason to make devices smart, sensing, and connected, you can do it; from thermostats to door bells. If there’s a reason, you can do it.

The other side of this coins are smart cities; a larger connected environment of buildings and city infrastructure. What would it mean to make an entire city smart, connected, and sensing? It would mean everything from energy efficient and safer buildings to smart parking meetings and even autonomous transportation of people and goods.

Imagine how these devices and buildings that are now aware could transform the workplace.  There is a real promise for safer, healthier, and more sustainable and productive places to work. I even like to imagine, what would it mean to have an office that not only allowed you to get your work done better and faster but also tried to make you laugh on a Monday or get you excited about your weekend on Friday?

But all this intelligence fueled by data exposes employees to a broader landscape of threats and misuse. HR has a specific and important role to play as these amazing new capabilities are brought into the workplace.

Robots Both Physical and Digital

Finally, we will see more robots. Right now, if you see a robot moving down the side walk it is interesting and maybe slightly odd. But imagine a future when seeing robot at work or on the street delivering dinner is commonplace.

A helpful way to imagine all of these technologies as they make their way into the workplace is to see them as autonomous technology. This could be physical autonomy like self-driving cars or warehouse robots. But autonomy can be strictly digital like AI, chat bots, and machine learning algorithms. These are the machines that will radically change HR.

But, how can we do business when the very nature of labor is changing? If machines begin to do more human work, how do we define work for humans? Ultimately, we will need to reimagine how we value human labor.

Come see me at ACE to learn more about what machines and millennials are doing to HR. Stay tuned for the my next blog post covering machines and millennials, but more importantly, what you need to do about it!

ACE Conference


For more information on AI and HR, view Achievers’ webinar recording “Engagement: How AI Helps HR to be More Human, Not Less.”

Profile image of author: Brian David Johnson

The future is Brian David Johnson's business. As a futurist he works with organizations to develop an actionable 10 -15 year vision and what it will feel like to live in the future. His work is called futurecasting, using ethnographic field studies, technology research, cultural history, trend data, global interviews and even science fiction to provide a pragmatic road map of the future. As an applied futurist Johnson has worked with governments, trade organizations, start-ups and multinational corporations to not only help envision their future but specify the steps needed to get there. Johnson is currently the futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Director of the ASU Threatcasting Lab. He is also a Futurist and Fellow at Frost and Sullivan. Johnson speaks and writes extensively in ongoing columns for IEEE Computer Magazine and Successful Farming where he is the "Farm Futurist”. He has contributed articles to publications like The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and Wired Magazine. Johnson holds over 40 patents and is the best-selling author of both science fiction and fact books (WAR: Wizards and Robots, Humanity in the Machine, 21st Century Robot and Science Fiction Prototyping). He was appointed first futurist ever at the Intel Corporation in 2009 where he worked for over a decade helping to design over 2 billion microprocessors. Johnson appears regularly on Bloomberg TV, PBS, FOX News, and the Discovery Channel and has been featured in Scientific American, The Technology Review, Forbes, INC, and Popular Science. He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter. In 2016 Samuel Goldwyn released "Vintage Tomorrows" a documentary based upon Johnson's book of the same name. Follow Brian on Twitter @bdjfuturist.

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