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Policymakers and employers must devise new strategies for dealing with the inevitability of manufacturing jobs being displaced or replaced by artificial intelligence and as new AI roles emerge, a senior Microsoft director has warned.

Greg Shaw, senior director at the Office of CEO at Microsoft, describes AI as “the defining technology of our time” in his new book, ‘the Future Computed: AI and manufacturing’.

The tech giant has called for an ethical framework and new policies for AI and its application to manufacturing with input from private and public sectors, civil society, employees, and labour organisations.  

One key concern is the impact of AI on jobs. The book suggests that “all of us” need to prepare for the impact on the workforce and to build a supply chain of talent to help new workers coming into the workforce acquire the new skills they will need.

The book is generally very upbeat about the technology. “Nearly every field of human endeavor could benefit from AI systems designed to complement human intelligence. From preventing once-deadly diseases, to enabling people with disabilities to participate more fully in society, to creating more sustainable ways to use the earth’s scarce resources, AI promises a better future for all,” it says.

Help needed

Yet it also notes that change of this magnitude inevitably gives rise to societal issues.

The book argues that there must be help for workers who will have to transition to new jobs with the same employer. But it also wants policymakers to support those whose roles will be eliminated and who will need new jobs elsewhere in the economy.

It notes that by 2020 more than 800 million people will need to learn new skills for their jobs and two-thirds of today’s students will work in jobs that do not yet exist, adding that Microsoft Philanthropies is working with policymakers worldwide to address the issue.

Shaw says that not only does this skills gap impact prospects for individuals, it has a systemic effect on the ability of companies, industries and communities to realise the full potential of this digital transformation.

Reskilling required

The book quotes Microsoft managing director of U.S. Policy and a former Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labour, Portia Wu, on labour displacement and reskilling.

She says that policymakers need to clearly identify which workers are being discussed as needs may be very different for workers who are being displaced compared with workers whose companies are helping them to gain added skills, or “upskill,” and for workers who program or design AI systems.

To improve the ‘training pipeline’, Wu suggests that business and industry need to define the skill sets that map to the jobs and careers of the future. They also need to consider how to standardise job titles and descriptions for the new AI world noting that the role of a data labeller or data analyst may be very different from company to company while new jobs and roles will be emerging every day.

New job titles will need to be defined says the global computing giant

Michel Servoz, Senior Adviser on AI and Robotics to European Commission President Juncker is quoted saying: “There is huge anxiety about the future of work among trade unions. Productivity and wages are stagnant, so they are rightly concerned.” Servoz believes the model needs to move to one of lifetime education.

The entire digital chain

The book notes that the debate on ethics and AI is no longer limited to the end product of manufacturing like self-driving cars.

It argues that it now covers the entire digital value chain from design and engineering, planning, supply chain management, factory automation, and workforce training to the Internet of Things.

It adds: “During our exploration of AI in manufacturing, we asked leaders about their attitudes toward the concepts of responsible innovation and ethical AI. Very often, unprompted, manufacturers said, “We need to be extremely ethical.” Every one of them was deeply thoughtful about this issue.”

The book suggests that AI will be the “defining technology of our time”.

It adds: “Like the discovery of electricity or the development of the steam engine, AI will have the power to fundamentally change people’s lives, transforming industry and transforming society. It is therefore even more imperative that the development and deployment of this  technology adopt clear principles to govern its creation and use.”

Using an analysis of third-party data, Shaw notes a number of dramatic predictions from global consultancies and thinktanks.

  • Manufacturers are seeing a 17 to 20 per cent productivity gain from smart factories
  • 50 per cent of companies which embrace AI in the next five to seven years should double their cashflow.
  • AI will add 3.7 trillion to manufacturing to the manufacturing sector by 2035
  • Machines complete 29 per cent of tasks today but are expected to complete 75% of tasks by 2025
  • There are 20 countries with national strategic AI plans
  • 133 million new jobs will be created between 2018 and 2020.

The book also lists what it sees as the six themes from a series of interviews with manufacturers and trade unions.

1. Manufacturers are already seizing the AI opportunity. AI is not simply about productivity. It’s also about helping reinvent organizations. AI is about workplace safety and health, predictive maintenance, process efficiencies, intelligent supply chains, uptime, higher value, and higher-quality products. These are the drivers of AI design and implementation for the manufacturers we spoke with. In addition, as a global manufacturer, Microsoft is using AI to drive its own transformation, and we are sharing those insights with our customers.

2. Central to digital transformation is cultural transformation. Strong leadership combined with engaging workers at all levels in the process is essential. In order to optimize AI’s value, the entire organization must work together to embrace change, break down silos, and create a seamless information supply chain inside companies and leverage their full data estate.

3. Those closest to the workforce, the managers and leaders inside manufacturing operations, are often the most sensitive to AI’s impact on their workforce. Their focus is to create a better company and more opportunity, including a safer work environment, fewer repetitive and unsatisfying jobs, and increasing productivity. They put their people first and so are eager to adopt technologies that have positive impact on workers.

4. There will be disruption and dislocation, and we need a new pipeline of talent. While there is positive sentiment about the opportunities for the workforce, manufacturers are also concerned about talent shortages, short-term disruption, and attracting the next generation of bright students. Jobs in manufacturing will require new skills and new capabilities, and this necessitates a new partnership for skills and workforce development with technology providers, industry, government, learning institutions, and labour organizations.

5. Next-generation policies and laws are needed for next generation technologies. Our customers are already versed in many of the ethical issues that are associated with AI—security, safety, reliability—but are looking for more guidance on how to use AI ethically and responsibly. As manufacturers, they are using AI in their production processes and infusing AI into their products, and they are therefore looking for guidelines that will help anticipate potential issues and ensure responsible innovation. Similarly, regulators are eager to remove technology hurdles and encourage the adoption of AI technologies that will promote worker safety, create more jobs, and help national competitiveness.

 6. AI is a journey, different for everyone. While many of our leading customers have embraced AI, there are many who are just beginning their journey. Microsoft has developed a guide to help them on their AI journey and show them how to best leverage their data estate. Implementation ranges from improving reporting through data analytics and business intelligence to “deep” AI capabilities through machine learning applications.

Research quoted

IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Operations Technology 2017 Predictions Jan 2017 Doc # US42261017 Web Conference By: Lorenzo Veronesi, Marc Van Herreweghe.

McKinsey – Digital Manufacturing Capturing Sustainable impact at scale (June 2017)

Manufacturing the Future: Artificial intelligence will fuel the next wave of growth for industrial equipment company.  Accenture 2019 https://www.accenture.com/t20180327T080053Z__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-74/Accenture-PovManufacturing-Digital-Final.pdf#zoom=50

World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs report 2018 (September 2018) http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2018/https://futureoflife.org/national-international-ai-strategies/?cn-reloaded=1

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