The Shape Of Work To Come

from nature

Last year, entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun set out to augment his sales force with artificial intelligence. Thrun is the founder and president of Udacity, an education company that provides online courses and employs an armada of salespeople who answer questions from potential students through online chats. Thrun, who also runs a computer-science lab at Stanford University in California, worked with one of his students to collect the transcripts of these chats, noting which resulted in students signing up for a course. The pair fed the chats into a machine-learning system, which was able to glean the most effective responses to a variety of common questions.

Next, they put this digital sales assistant to work alongside human colleagues. When a query came in, the program would suggest an appropriate response, which a salesperson could tailor if necessary. It was an instantaneously reactive sales script with reams of data supporting every part of the pitch. And it worked; the team was able to handle twice as many prospects at once and convert a higher percentage of them into sales. The system, Thrun says, essentially packaged the skills of the company’s best salespeople and bequeathed them to the entire team — a process that he views as potentially revolutionary. “Just as much as the steam engine and the car have amplified our muscle power, this could amplify our brainpower and turn us into superhumans intellectually,” he says.

The past decade has seen remarkable advances in digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, cloud computing, data analytics and mobile communications. Over the coming decades, these technologies will transform nearly every industry — from agriculture, medicine and manufacturing to sales, finance and transportation — and reshape the nature of work. “Millions of jobs will be eliminated, millions of new jobs will be created and needed, and far more jobs will be transformed,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, who directs the Initiative on the Digital Economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

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One Comment

  1. Technology is advancing rapidly, and almost too fast for our own good. As the author stated, researchers are trying to study the implications that the advancement of artificial intelligence will have on a wide range of jobs, but it is really hard to tell exactly how it will affect society in the future. There are both positives and negatives to all of the new technology, and we have to find ways to use it to our advantage.

    I believe that we are currently in a transition period. Technology that just 20 years ago was unimaginable is now coming to fruition. People are creating new things every day, but we still do not know how to use all of it yet. Some technologies, like virtual reality, are mostly just used for recreational purposes, but will one day be integral to business. Other technologies, like 3D printing, are already making their way into the business world, soon to revolutionize manufacturing and even seeing opportunities in health and medicine. Big changes are soon going to be happening in the way we do things every day as a society. This can be both exciting and scary for many people.

    Some jobs will be lost, some will be made more efficient, and some will be created due to technological advancements. The key here, however, is that we do not let it get ahead of us. The implications of new and revolutionary technology must be studied thoroughly, to ensure that jobs are always being made more effective, whether a machine replaces it, or a human and machine are working interdependently, rather than jobs being lost to machines just for the sake of it (or for the cost-saving benefits). The use of artificial intelligence and other technologies will change the way we do things; hopefully this change will be positive, as long as we keep studying how it will make our workforce more efficient.

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