C'A'n 'I' Replace Your Jobs? Humans have moved from steam engines to manufacturing industries to the Internet. In the age of machine intelligence, employees are plagued by a common concern: How will AI impact my job? Though tech-heavy industries are likely to be more affected than other workers, there are ample amount of opportunities that would be created

By Shrabona Ghosh

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Filmmaker James Cameron's movie series Terminator in the 80s, 90s depicted how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can metamorphose. AI is no more a fantasy or a futuristic idea, it is here today. As experts continue to decode its competence, the archetypal concern surrounding AI is: Whether it will replace human jobs?

According to the findings of a recent KPMG survey, Indian employees are more wary of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence (AI) than their counterparts in the US, UK and Germany. As many as 68 per cent believe that AI will replace jobs in their work areas. One of the leading reasons for this increased concern among Indian employees is the presence of a large workforce in BPOs and KPOs, which are particularly vulnerable to AI automation and high rate of AI adoption in the country.

However, AI is a way to augment and automate processes rather than just removing humans from every process. It will be a gamechanger and will create potentials up for grabs. A PwC report said AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined. Of this, $6.6 trillion will come from increased productivity and $9.1 trillion from consumption side effects.

Opportunities Ahead

According to a report by NASSCOM, India's AI market is expected to reach $30 billion by 2025. This is a significant opportunity for businesses across a wide range of industries. All industries have significant benefits of implementation of AI in their business processes, but low hanging fruits are the sales, marketing, customer relationship management, automation, optimizing processes and forecasting results based on historical data.

This is the next wave of digitization that will create much more value and economic benefit, adding more employment in the country. "While the AI related paradigm shift is ongoing, for organizations to identify worthy use-cases, implement them and realize RoI, relook at existing job profiles; would take anywhere between 3 to 5 years to completely fructify," said Sachin Arora, partner and head, Lighthouse (Data, AI, and Analytics),KPMG, India.

In the near-term, the biggest potential economic uplift from AI is likely to come from improved productivity. "This includes automation of routine tasks, augmenting employees' capabilities and freeing them up to focus on more stimulating and higher value adding work. Capital-intensive sectors such as manufacturing and transport are likely to see the largest productivity gains from AI, given that many of their operational processes are highly susceptible to automation," said Manpreet Singh Ahuja, chief digital officer, PwC India.

AI could double annual global economic growth rates and this will drive growth in three important ways: First, it will lead to a strong increase in labor productivity (by up to 40 per cent) due to innovative technologies enabling more efficient workforce-related time management; secondly, AI will create a new virtual workforce capable of solving problems and self-learning; thirdly, the economy will also benefit from the diffusion of innovation, which will affect different sectors and create new revenue streams. "Productivity will also improve due to businesses complementing and assisting their existing workforce with AI technologies. It will require investing in software, systems and machines based on assisted, autonomous and augmented intelligence; this would not only enable the workforce to perform its tasks better and more efficiently but would also free up time allowing it to focus on more stimulating and higher value-added activities. Automation would partially remove the need for labor input, leading to productivity gains overall," Ahuja further explained.

Generative AI will help BPOs automate certain aspects of their work processes, allowing employees to focus on more complex and value-added tasks. "AI would aid in streamlining repetitive and mundane tasks, in enhancing decision-making, and in improving customer service among other things. Hence, generative AI-driven automation will not lead to significant job losses in the BPO sector; on the contrary, it has the potential to empower employees and enhance their productivity and efficiency in their daily tasks. People and companies using AI will replace those not doing so and this is going to have more of an impact than the actual job losses," added Sachin Arora of KPMG, India.

What are Companies Doing?

According to PwC 26th annual global CEO survey- sixty-three percent of CEOs believe AI will have a larger impact than the Internet.

As many as 52 per cent of CEOs are concerned to a large extent or a very large extent about skills shortages & 72 per cent of CEOs are investing in upskilling their workforce in priority areas. Infosys has launched an AI Academy that provides employees with training in AI and machine learning. The academy offers both online and classroom-based courses, as well as hands-on training through projects and simulations.

"As part of our AI first strategy, one of the tracks is focused on creating an AI-first talent. We are working on creating three levels of enablement. The first one is training people on what is generative AI, what can be done with this technology, what are the use cases and how to use AI assistants and features in their day-to-day work. The second set would include training AI builders who will be using a lot of AI services that are already available to create specific AI-first solutions and for reimagining AI-first experience and processes. Lastly, we will have AI masters with deep AI skills that span creating pre-trained and fine-tuned models, model performance optimization, safety testing, and adherence to responsible AI guardrails," said Mohammed Rafee Tarafdar, chief technology officer, Infosys.

"We are more focused on building and transforming tech talent that includes these AI builders and masters who can work with our clients on AI projects. In terms of general trends, AI has the potential to displace some tasks and amplify some. We are focusing on using AI to amplify the potential of every employee and training them to use these AI assistants to do their work with higher productivity and efficiency. As we scale AI projects, we are already seeing the need for new roles and skills that did not exist and will be investing in incubating and scaling these roles," added CTO of Infosys.

TCS has developed an AI-powered platform called 'TCS Upskill' that helps employees identify skill gaps and develop the necessary skills to thrive in an AI-driven world.

"We believe strongly in the power of this technology to augment people, rather than replace people. We think of AI as augmented intelligence, empowering people to do more," said Harrick Vin, CTO, TCS.

Similarly, Tech Mahindra has launched a 'Skillathon' program that challenges employees to develop new AI skills through online competitions and hackathons. IBM's Well-being Assistant personalized recommendations for employee well-being, including fitness routines, mental health resources, and work-life balance suggestions, while respecting data privacy and receiving positive feedback from the workforce. Microsoft's "Viva Insights" utilizes AI to provide data-driven insights on work habits, promote breaks and encourage mindfulness, ultimately reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being for employees.

With an aim to harness the endless possibilities, one of the big four firms such as PwC, has set up a gen AI innovation lab which is building prototypes for various use cases and bringing different tech patterns to life. The idea behind the lab is to make the gen AI led transformation agenda more real.

Upskilling Employees

Enterprises can set up incubation and Innovation centers for rapid prototyping within the firm and boost innovation on gen AI. This will create a stimulus for employees to onboard on cutting-edge tech. "To state that today, gen AI which is driving disruptions for business, upskilling is the key. Understanding LLM and mastering prompt engineering to be able to utilize the full benefit of gen AI applications is a must," said the chief digital officer of PwC, India.

The two focus areas should be infrastructure and research in AI. Gearing up for infrastructure that would be ready to adopt artificial intelligence, and hone AI based skills and jobs are the need of the hour.

"The training institutes and other academic institutions in India need to tailor their learning programs to suit AI specific skills. Policymakers need to drive AI innovation in all sectors leading to "Make in India", "Skill India", and "Digital India", and other flagship programs envisaged by the government of India. On the education front, there is an urgent need to evolve alternative models to best suit an AI-enabled future," explained Arora of KPMG, India.

While AI may reduce the demand for some jobs, it can also create new employment opportunities in previously unexplored areas such as creation and development of AI-based Products, which requires machine learning engineers, data scientists and specialized researchers. Secondly, there will be a need for Ethical AI as implementing AI also necessitates support from AI ethics and cybersecurity specialists. "With the growing awareness of the ethical implications of AI, there are opportunities for ethics experts to ensure that decisions made by AI systems align with moral and social principles," added Arora.

"It is important for employees to know if their job role is going to be impacted, and accordingly train themselves and transition to any new role or opportunity that is coming up as a result of AI implementation. For example, an employee working in the customer support function may get impacted as some of the jobs may be taken over by AI, especially generative AI engines. The employee may look at this as an opportunity to explore newer avenues such as working on training AI engines with data sets or analyzing and auditing the AI output etc., which could be the new areas that come up," said Devroop Dhar, co-founder, Primus Partners.

Should You Worry?

Future of Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum estimated that 85 million jobs will be displaced while 97 million new jobs will be created across 26 countries by 2025. This suggests that the net impact of AI on employment is likely to be positive, but it also means that some jobs that do not involve human intelligence to address complex business problems will be lost.

"Employees in tech-heavy industries are likely to be more affected by AI than other workers because AI is being used to automate many of the manual tasks that are currently done by humans in these industries. Despite skepticism and the change that it brings, technology, over the years, has already created millions of jobs in each phase of the innovation cycle when we moved from steam engines to the age of manufacturing, industries to the Internet and now in the age of machine intelligence. Any job losses from automation are likely to be broadly offset in the long run by new jobs created as a result of the larger and wealthier economy made possible by these new technologies," Ahuja of PwC India explained.

Employees working in tech heavy industries need not worry about losing jobs, but they do need to skill-up to ensure they stay relevant. Key skills needed would be Mathematics, probability and statistical techniques, Cloud platforms and services, natural language processing, machine learning, data architecture, modeling and governance, deep learning and neural networks, image processing, robotics and distributed computing.

While some markets, sectors and individual businesses are more advanced than others, AI is still at a very early stage of development overall. From a macroeconomic point of view, there are opportunities for emerging markets to leapfrog more developed counterparts.

According to Dhar, co-founder, Primus Partners, a recent survey has highlighted that 85 per cent of the employers feel that AI will create new jobs in the next 1-5 years. The quantum of scope that the segment holds can be gauged from the fact that AI and its allied industry can be about 8-10 per cent of the GDP of the country in the next three years or so. Opportunities can be looked at in two parts – opportunities created for serving the Indian industry and opportunities created for the Indian IT sector for serving the global industry.

As more and more industries adopt AI, there would be a need for various specialists including data scientists, AI trainers and operators, AI application developers, AI system integration specialists, specialists focusing on compliance and ethics, content creators. AI can be the new 'Y2K moment' for the country and open up new opportunities for the Indian tech industry to thrive as we look at becoming the AI capital of the world and deliver AI systems and solutions for global clients. "AI could give the Indian IT industry the next big push, similar to what Y2K did about two decades back," Dhar added.

Shrabona Ghosh

Correspondent

A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 

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