In September 1962, ABC debuted the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon, “The Jetsons,” about a space-age nuclear family who enjoyed technological advances that today seem commonplace: LCD TVs, electronic vending machines, electric toothbrushes, moving walkways and video conferencing. Soon thereafter, NBC aired the first episode of “Star Trek,” the seminal science-fiction series that predicted such modern-day marvels as tablet computers, cell phones (known as “flip communicators”), and voice interface capabilities similar to Siri. Not long after that, Hal, the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, went rogue.
Humans have always been fascinated by the interface between man and machine, particularly when those machines either make our lives easier or have the ability to “learn.” Today, as robots rapidly become an essential element of every business, we must ask ourselves: How can AI boost the productivity and the value of each employee? How will it change workflows? And how will AI change business itself? To help answer these questions, we’ve imagined the company of the future—FuturaCorp, we are calling it—that we hope will enable a successful adoption of AI into business, society and our lives.
Which begs the real question: Is your company ready for the robots?
Believe it or not, your company’s readiness for this brave new relationship between human and machine can be evaluated via what we’re calling the “Organizational Readiness Score,” which looks like this:
f(B + E + O)
Let’s break it down.
B stands for Behavior. With the addition of advanced technology, human behavior—and hence productivity—is enhanced. As machines take over the drudgery, workers must re-imagine their roles in the workplace and CEOs must consider employee behavior in terms of what we’re calling “cognitive resource allocation.” How will this brainpower be redirected, now that it’s been freed from the mundane?
E stands for Environment, meaning the social, economic, and political context in which your organization finds itself. On a more macro scale, it also considers the business environment within the context of its own industry: Who are the other players? What are the legal and compliance issues within your industry?
O stands for Organization. Once machines take over various tasks, org charts and hierarchies will inevitably be shuffled around. As Heraclitus so wisely described centuries ago, you never step into the same river twice. Like the never-ending water flowing in a river, change is constant, so adaptation becomes essential. Enhancing outputs, streamlining productivity, and improving employee experience all fall under this umbrella.
X, then, becomes the dynamic elements of the workplace which are now freed to find expression: serendipity, reciprocity, inspiration, elasticity, and reinvention. Serendipity, by definition, cannot be planned for, but when robots and humans work in tandem, the opportunities for serendipitous collisions and collusions increase. Reciprocity occurs when humans and machines give back to one another in ways that both increase productivity and lessen the other’s workload. Inspiration is unleashed when the brain is freed—through the help of technology—to think deeply and more profoundly about pressing issues the business is facing as well as find new paths yet unseen. Elasticity involves being able to stretch and adapt oneself to the constant change brought about by shifting technologies. And reinvention occurs when new ideas are given the proper soil to take root, the proper nutrients to grow, and the proper time to flourish, resulting in new technologies that spur the process of reinvention and create new inventions and modi operandi.
For example, the London borough of Enfield recently embraced AI in the form of Amelia—a robot deliberately programmed to learn from experience—to move its workers off low-effort tasks like helping citizens find information online and into higher-functioning jobs such as in-person consultations where human-to-human contact would be of greater value.
Such cognitive resource allocations will be the lifeblood of future companies. This will inevitably lead to organizational changes in the form of org chart reshufflings as well as creating a greater need for flexibility and multi-dimensionality in employees. Simply put, it won’t be enough for an employee to perform one specific task well or even competently. The FuturaCorp employee will have to be more like a Swiss Army knife than a scythe, capable of learning and cutting through numerous tasks with precision and excellence.
As a company’s AI advances, adaptability, learning and seamless integration will become the most valued attributes of successful companies. In other words, the key for the future of any enterprise that will rely on a workforce made up of both humans and robots, is mutual responsibility and respect. Human brains and robot hard drives must each interface where they can best be put to good use, because together, man and machine are far more powerful than they are alone. That’s not science fiction. It’s just good business sense.