My Coworker is a Computer: Machines as Talent in the Workplace

In a world where technology permeates our existence, HR representatives and business analysts are scrambling to answer the big questions about the impact computers can have on the workplace. When so many processes can be automated, and analytics show that computers can often take the place of three or four employees much more cheaply, we have to ask ourselves: what role should using machines as talent take in the workplace?

It’s easy to feel alarmed when considering machines as talent in the workplace. An analysis done by Deloitte University Press pulled a statistic from an Oxford study. The study found nearly half of United States employment could potentially be automated in the next decade or two, using machines as talent to replace a terrifying number of jobs. However, the same analysis cautions employees against fearing for their jobs. Instead of focusing on how machines as talent could replace flesh and blood employees, HR departments should channel their efforts into looking at how humans and machines can collaborate in the workplace.

What Can Machines as Talent Actually DO?

The idea of computers truly taking the place of humans sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. Machines as talent is a fun idea, but they’ll never be able to replace us completely, right? In truth, this fiction is becoming very real. Cognitive computing technologies are the smart machines we’re talking about here. Cognitive computing technology refers to a computer that has been taught how to think.

The computer is given a problem to analyze and when feedback is relayed back to the computer it does the work better the next time. You see this in action every day on your smartphone. Talk about a talented little machine. Have you noticed that when you send texts and you use a name unique to the messages you send the phone will eventually autocorrect mistypes of that name? That’s cognitive computer technology and it’s one of the main advantages of machines as talent in the workplace. Thinking computers can do a host of other things, according to the same article above. Computers are capable of voice and speech recognition, reading, even watching Youtube videos to learn how to do new things.

That’s a neat party trick, but how do machines as talent replace humans as talent? What are the applications? For starters, tasks like writing up earnings reports can potentially be done more quickly and efficiently by a machine. Reports like that require analysis of data, and nowadays the computer can be taught to analyze the data it’s already storing and build a report based on a formula. If computers can do this with lightning quickness, suddenly paying a person to do the same thing seems like a poor fiscal decision. And therein lies the biggest problem with the concept of using machines as talent. How do we balance our human-machine workforce and collaborate instead of compete?

Increasing Reach Without Eliminating Jobs

One way of looking at the implications of using machines is to change the question we are asking. Instead of looking for ways using machines as talent can eliminate costs, we should start asking how computer collaboration can increase revenues. It’s simple math. If your company pays an employee the average salary and you replace the employee with an automated system, the maximum amount the company gains from the change is limited to the salary of the employee. However, if a computer is employed by that same employee to increase their workflow and generate productivity, the potential revenue stream is much less limited.

One example of this is that of Associated Press, which has been working on implementation of automated stories about earnings reports. By effectively using robots, AP has been able to grow the amount of stories they put out from 300 to 4,000 per quarter. They have done so without replacing their human talent, and it works out great for the reporters, who get to do more reporting rather than spending time doing the “grunt work” of data analysis.

The Big Picture: Using Machines as Talent Effectively

Ultimately, small adjustments in the way we think about machines will lead to better collaboration. Like AP, HR directors should ask what “grunt work” their employees are being required to do and see if implementing machines as talent can make a difference. If a computer can take care of the menial but necessary tasks that come with most types of work, then employees can be freed to do more of the work you hired them for.

Another example is that of translation software. As machines become better at translating languages, human translators become editors, able to get through larger volumes of material in less time, which still translates into revenue for the company. Some insurance companies are now using machines by implementing systems that allow paperwork and claim submission to be automated via mobile phone, cutting down on phone time and allowing adjustors to process more claims.

In short, using machines as talent is a win-win-win. It results in happier employees doing more of the work they were hired to do, more revenue being pulled in from larger volumes of work, and a future where machines and humans integrate harmoniously in the workplace for a more productive, more efficient future.

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