Future Proofing of Workforce Against Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Technologies.

Date01 July 2021
AuthorBhattacharyya, Som Sekhar

Emerging Narrative

Human resources have been seen as a strategic resource for firms (Wright & McMahan, 1992). According to the tenets of Resource Based View of firms, strategic resources were the source of sustainable competitive advantage for firms (Wright & Snell, 1991). This was because human resource could be valuable, rare, inimitable and non-substitutable (VRIN) (Barney & Wright, 1998). Any firm having a basket of resources (like technology) could provide a firm comparative advantage. However, a firm which employed superior human resources will be able to integrate diverse firm resources like technology, physical assets and others and steer all these sets of resources to attain and gain competitive advantage (Malik, 2018). Thus, it becomes imperative for a firm to develop a robust Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM) system (Wright & McMahan, 1992; Wright & Snell, 1991).

However, human resource managers in the present-day context confront a new reality. Machine based "Machine Learning" plus 'Artificial Intelligence' (ML + AI) as a combined technology has been in ascendence. This has been creating a new landscape wherein routine jobs are being performed by automated technologies that can also learn. Future has been becoming chaotic, novel and complex (Bhattacharyya, Rangarajan & Vyas, 2012). Take the case of a personal assistant. It was a mundane but an important job. Personal assistants would manage the meetings of the top-ranking executive at a large enterprise. Their task was to schedule meetings, make reservations, call cabs and help out the boss with anything she needed to get done. In the present-day context, the personal assistant cannot have that job because thanks to Alexa--Amazon's automated personal assistance (and its likes) available as cheap as about INR 3000 Echo dot 3rd generation (Amazon.co.in, 2020). The role of a personal assistant has become redundant at most new age workplaces. ML +AI based bots could perform this task better than the personal assistant. This has not been the only role that has come under threat because of AI and ML based automation. Call center jobs have been vanishing over the years. A large airline in South Asia (Air Asia) shut down all its call centers to go all in on a chatbot and an AI enabled voice assistant (Barbaschow, 2019). It has now been becoming evident that most of the 'do as directed' roles were being auto mated and might cease to exist in the near future. Even Microsoft in the summer of 2020 when the world was in the severe grip of COVID-19 pandemic replaced dozens of journalists with AI technologies (De Boss, 2020).

Why this has been happening was of common knowledge evident across thousands of years of civilization. Machines have been far better than human beings 'in do as directed tasks' where the course of action does not change because of the context. Human beings being human have their own frailties. A human being can fall sick, has to be paid minimum wage and is prone to errors. Contrast it with a machine that does the same task with more efficiency and zero errors and you have a sure shot winner. Even if the machine takes longer to complete the task, companies can have more machines and yet get the task done because machines cost a fraction of the cost of a human being (Bhattacharyya & Nair, 2019). 'Machine Learning' plus 'Artificial Intelligence' (ML + AI) technologies as a combined technology has been again a step in the same direction (Wang & Siau, 2019; Levy, 2018). Practicing human resource planning managers in most organizations across industries, must take cognizance of this and take steps in planning their HRM initiatives mindful of ML+AI technologies. One must remember that job creation and protection has been a sage goal of business firms (Bhattacharyya, Chaturvedi, & Chaturvedi, 2009). In fig. 1, the authors proposed a decision framework for choosing which jobs to be replaced by AI+ML technologies in organizations and which would not be.

As seen in fig. 1, if the functions of the job role were rule based with low or no need for human intervention, such roles should be automated--especially when there would be significant savings vis-a-vis a person doing that role. For example, a managerial role that required collation of status and creating a status report. However, if a role required human touch, for example on boarding new associates--such roles might not be automated. Thus, what are going to be the roles of scope for human resources in the future is required to be answered. This has been deliberated upon in the next section.

The Role of Human Resources Going into Future

It would be important to comprehend the imperatives of the advent of AI+ML technologies for organizations. Does it mean that value of human resources will diminish in future and machine will rule the roost? This has been a question that most human resource (HR) managers confront today. HR managers rather has to explore avenues wherein human resources will become even more valuable because of their natural intelligence. Natural Intelligence entailed the ability to think independently, to learn from experience, to solve complicated problems, and to adapt to new situations (Gottfredson, 1997; Sternberg, 2003). Psychologists term this as generalized...

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