Machine learning, automation and human ‘ramp-up’ coming

Digitally savvy people will be among immediate corporate hiring plans—along with robots, says KPMG.

Machine learning, automation and human ‘ramp-up’ coming

Tech industry CEOs are extremely concerned about their products’ relevancies in the next few years, so they are concentrating on innovation as a strategy, according to a new survey.

The way they intend to move forward is by developing a combined human and digital labor force, says accountancy and advisor KPMG, which conducted the survey.

By that, it means deploying automation and cognitive machine learning digitization, but also building a human workforce geared towards constant innovation.

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The human element “headcount,” specializing in digital, will be increased by 6 percent over the next three years, more than half (55 percent) of the surveyed think. Whereas 5 percent of the traditional workforce will be replaced by automation and machine learning, according to three quarters of the CEOs surveyed. A mix, in other words.

KPMG surveyed 138 CEOs from U.S. technology companies. Most (72 percent) ran companies that have revenues of $1 billion or greater.

Traditional “manufacturing, technology, sales and marketing” are not in the “new class of digital labor.”

Accelerated innovation

About half of the tech respondents currently “describe their approach to innovation as accelerated,” KPMG says in its press release. That’s because they’re worried about the aforementioned product and services relevancy, worldwide economic influences and how drastically millennials may demand non-traditional things.

In terms of risk, tech CEOs are most perturbed about cybercrime, regulations and reputation. Almost all of the bosses (90 percent) agree there is a need for security in products. That requirement is also “prompting innovation in products and services.”

“Software engineers in particular should benefit from this trend towards workforce automation and machine learning,” says IEEE Spectrum, writing separately about the study.

In the long term, one might question whether the human element will be required at all, though.

“Forty-five percent of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology,” management consultants McKinsey said in a report I wrote about last year.

One argument in favor of retaining humans in the work chain, even though robots will likely do many jobs better and faster, is that humans could then spend more time on higher-level, noble and creative functions. There could be “more hours for the worker to do other things that are neglected today,” I wrote. That’s even though, now, only “4 percent of work activities require creativity at a median human level of performance,” McKinsey claims. Room for improvement.

“The co-existence between human employees and cognitive systems is creating a new class of digital labor that can enhance human skills and expertise, allowing employees to innovate constantly,” KPMG somewhat agrees in its release.

Perhaps where we’ll end up is somewhere in the middle: with a creative, innovative workforce not distracted by the triviality of manufacturing (bring in the robots); business development and being a boss (run big data mingled with algorithms); sales (artificial intelligence will know what people want to buy and who sells it); and so on.

Maybe that’s what the cognitive artificial intelligence systems, robots and so on will bring to the table. We won’t get ousted as workers; we’ll all just get re-purposed as designers and product developers.

“Strategic priorities will be a continued focus on innovation” is the take-away, though, from the KPMG report.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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