Robots vs Humans – where is the future of work heading?

What impact could technology have on the world of work in the future? Will we reach a point where robots will compete with humans for jobs? And what will this mean for HR and for employers and employees in the future of work? Michael Rendell, our Global HR Consulting Leader explores the possibilities with Rohit Talwar, a Futurist at Fast Future Research and Jon Andrews, our UK HR Consulting Leader in the first of several talks looking at the future of work.

 
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Michael Rendell 

Welcome, I’m Michael Rendell, I lead PwC’s HR Consulting practice and this is the first of several talks we’re going to do about the future of work. I’m joined today by Jon Andrews who leads our HR Consulting Practice in the UK and by Rohit Talwar who is a futurist and has been thinking about what does the world look like in the future? So we’re going to talk today about technology and how technology is influencing the way we behave and what organisations and employers need to do to project into the future to respond to those demands. John, first question for you, are we going to end up being managed by robots? Are we going to be managed by technology? It already does a lot of our recruiting; first assessment gets done by technology now. Are we going to end up being managed by robots?

Jon Andrews 

Well in many ways of course we’re on that journey already. There’s many way in which technology forces us to behave in a certain way in order for us to comply with the way the technology works, so there’s no reason to believe that as we look forward to the future that with the instigation of you know biological and cyber coming together, more and more sophisticated ways in which computers and technology is beginning to think and evolve as a tool in its own right, that some of the more empathetic and judgment based things that we do at work could be done by robots. Now of course that presents a huge number of challenges to us. For example how do you performance manage a robot versus performance managing a human being? That would be a real challenge for us. You know other examples might be things like the introduction of regulation from governments to make sure that there’s enough people in employment who therefore are earning enough money to spend on the economy because of course if it was just the robots they may be easily satisfied with a bit of oil and a bit of electricity. I don’t know Rohit, what do you think?

Rohit Talwar 

I think it’s a really important challenge now to start thinking about how technology is going to come into the work place in markedly different ways. We’re not seeing it happen in maybe many parts of the world but already we’re seeing companies like Fox Con in China in the middle of installing a million robots into their workplace. We’re seeing other companies now starting to use technology to monitor employee concentration. We’re seeing artificial intelligence doing the work that lawyers used to do. So it’s starting to seep in but maybe we can’t see it, but it’s an important thing to now start looking at this and understanding how it could impact the workplace career has already been debating a bill of rights for robots and what we’re seeing is around the world, people, the revolution is not being televised but it’s starting to happen. Whether its robots going into hospitals to perform basic care tasks, going into schools to do teaching assistant work, this is starting to happen and the pace of change is only going to accelerate, so we have to decide as companies whether we want to wait until the change is fully formed and then be on the receiving end of it or whether we actually want to see if we can gain some competitive advantage by moving quickly when we these first signs of change happening.

Michael Rendell 

And John, what should organisations be doing? That’s quite a scary view of the world. We’ve got to go through a consultation process when we turn the robot off at the end of the day. Kind of what should organisations be doing now for preparing for that ten year future horizon?

Jon Andrews 

Well I think Rohit you touched on one point which I think is important. I think there’s two ways in which organisations can look at this. One is to try and understand what they don’t necessarily understand today. To see what’s coming so that the decisions they’re making today are not, are a no regret decision and that might be going out of your traditional market, it might be looking out of your traditional competitors and identifying things that could be a threat to the business but then the other side of the coin I think which is the bit which you alluded to is actually there’s many things going on today, practises around how robots or technology is merging with the way that humans perform business so that they’re together. So they co-exist rather than necessarily look at one taking over from the other and seeing where they can identify the ways in which they could create competitive advantage by bringing that into their organisation today or even accelerating investment in certain forms of technology to create that competitive advantage.

Michael Rendell 

So Rohit, we’re creating hybrids, this blend of the boundaries getting blended between humans and technology?

Rohit Talwar 

Absolutely, it won’t end with just robots becoming more and more advanced and what we’re actually going to see is a lot of the functionality of robots being absorbed into humans. We’re already seeing a lot of work going on around human enhancement where people are using chemicals to enhance brain function. We’re looking at genetic enhancements to eliminate things like rage and we’re seeing people already starting to have technologically based body part replacements and I saw a few weeks ago a guy whose hand could rotate through 360o. We’re going to have to start thinking very differently about the structure of the workplace and how we reward and motivate people who might have a degree of technological enhancement and we’re going to have to start doing the experiments now as to how you manage a mixed workplace that has unenhanced humans, robots and then something sitting in the middle that’s you know part enhanced human and it sounds like science fiction or science fantasy but this stuff is happening around us right now and we do have to start to think about it very clearly because it’s going to change everything around how we reward, how we motivate and how we manage teams in the workplace.

Michael Rendell 

So a stunning view of the future there. Something that’s very different and something that employers need to be preparing for and thinking about today because the people they’re recruiting today are going to be the leaders of that business in ten years’ time. John, Rohit, thank you very much. An inspiring insight into the future Thank you for listening. There’s further information on this very exciting topic on our website. Please go and look at the “Future of Work”. Thank you.