AI and automation will take jobs – but how and where?

Routine tasks are already being automated at call centres (Image Credit: Plantronics)

How call centres will change

Advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP) are set to allow AI-driven voice activation to transform call centres. "There is a rush to automate customer services which is drastically changing the way people work, not just by reducing the number of people, but by the type of person," says Simon Sear, practice lead at strategic design consultancy BJSS Sparck.

AI bots will learn from mistakes, so the tasks that are left to humans to solve will get more and more complex. "As more becomes automated and the exceptions become extremely complex the service analyst needs to become more skilled, empowered – and inevitably better paid," Sear notes.

Call centre staff will be fewer, and work more like analysts and IT staff – Gartner predicts that by 2019 more than 10% of IT hires in customer service will mostly write scripts for chatbots.

Don’t overestimate chatbots

Total workload will decline in call centres, but there are limits. “Bots are still poor at being general-purpose helpers, and frequently misunderstand or totally fail to understand human intent,” says Rurik Bradbury, Global Head of Research at LivePerson. “Think of bots as specialists in certain tasks – ones that are simple, predictable, easy to automate.” Bots will only take over routine processes, replacing tasks, not jobs. 

Besides, the modern call centre won’t just handle calls. “The hybrid partnership of AI and humans is that by its very nature it is multi-channel, meaning we’ll see the call centre evolve into more of a customer interaction centre,” thinks Paul Briault, Digital Security, Identity and API Management Director at CA Technologies.

Dangerous jobs, such as on oil rigs, are being replaced via automation (Image Credit: Apache)

Do businesses need a Chief Automation Officer?

Automation and AI will change industries; it's just a case of making sure everyone in a business knows what's going on. That's according to Capita Resourcing's new Workplace More Human report, which found that while 91% of businesses consider automation to be an opportunity rather than a risk, two-thirds of employees fear that the rise of robotics will make the workplace less sociable and friendly.

"It is vital that organisations clearly communicate what their automated business would look like with their employees," says Jo Matkin, Managing Director of Capita Resourcing, who thinks that communication should cover how automation impacts their role, workplace and the possible benefits it will bring – such as up-skilling or freeing up employee time to focus on more creative, less menial activities.

She also thinks that organisations themselves need a clearer understanding of their automation strategy and its potential impact. "Appointing a dedicated Chief Automation Officer (CAO) could be a solution and invaluable addition to driving your organisation’s competitive advantage in an increasingly automated world,” she says.

Automated software has been used in aviation for decades (Image Credit: Airbus)

Rosy outlook for IT sector

Automation may be everywhere, but a future made of technology will require the support of CIOs and IT teams.

“It’s hard to deny that even the most sophisticated robot is a simple and expensive pile of parts without a legion of highly-skilled humans to design, program and repair it,” says Steve Weston, Chief Information Officer at Hays, who thinks there will be a surge in the demand for robot programmers and machine learning engineers. 

Ultimately, the market will decide on the impact of AI and automation. It could even create jobs. "Entrepreneurs will harness AI to create all sorts of new businesses, many not yet conceived, which will create, change and replace existing job roles," says Jones.

Research by Infosys found that 80% of AI adopters who have replaced, or plan to replace, workers with technology, will retain, retrain and up-skill those impacted. Besides, if the automation revolution is judged to have gone too far, it will shrink. "If AI increases the world’s wealth and free time, there may be more demand for new services for which people – saddened by the decline of human interaction – will pay a premium to have delivered by humans," says Jones. 

Far from surgically removing jobs and livelihoods, AI and automation is just the latest salvo in a technological revolution that has been going on since the dawn of time, and it has another name: progress.