The rise of AI has sparked worldwide fears that technology will soon become advanced enough to replace human workers on a grand scale. If you share those fears, I have good news and bad news for you.
First, the bad news. According to a January 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report, about half of employees’ current tasks could be automated by adapting existing technologies. It is not a question of whether, but rather of when, the technology will be good enough to perform on par with humans. Indeed, millions of workers in the global manufacturing sector are already at risk of being replaced by robots. But the moment of truth is coming for knowledge workers too, perhaps even in the next ten years.
Asia is not immune—if anything, it’s ahead of the curve. Earlier this year, a Japanese insurance company began replacing 34 claim workers with IBM’s Watson Explorer AI platform. Officials at South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning have promised to deliver “intelligent AI, capable of processing a wide range of professional knowledge” starting in 2022.
Now, the good news. I’m convinced that automation will make human managers more important, not less, to organizations. I say this as an academic researcher who has spent 20 years working closely with a host of organizations undergoing strategic change.