Robots are helping some workers, instead of taking their jobs

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Software and automation threaten to make 15% of jobs obsolete within a decade. In some industries, it’s likely to be higher.

But for now, robots may actually be helping workers, making it easier to succeed at their jobs, or even move on to more productive, higher-skill work that pays more and offers better job security.

Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America, tells Yahoo Finance in the video above that “artificial intelligence”—computers that can learn like humans and do some intellectual work—has allowed her firm to eliminate lower-skill jobs and train those workers for other jobs harder to fill.

“We automated almost 40,000 jobs,” Sweet says. “We re-invested the savings in upskilling those individuals, and they’re now doing really important work, including training algorithms to help companies use artificial intelligence.”

Many big companies are exploring artificial intelligence, or AI, a burgeoning new field some experts believe will be more transformational than any digital technology that has arrived so far. But executives aren’t sure how to deploy AI just yet. “About half the companies today, based on our research, have not started [using AI] but are thinking about it,” Sweet says. “A quarter are doing proofs of concept, and a quarter are actually doing some focused and scaled work.”

That last group—the ones finding ways to use AI—are seeing results. “If you can emulate that quarter,” Sweet says,  you could grow profits by an average of 38%. You’d increase employment by 10%, and grow your bottom line.”

There’s an important cautionary note about AI and other forms of automation. Many firms face a labor shortage at the moment, with nearly 6.5 million jobs open at employers across the country. So when companies automate jobs, they have good reason to hold onto the workers displaced by automation and move them into other openings. That may not be the case when the next recession occurs and firms face pressure to cut labor costs. But the robots are coming either way, and it’s encouraging that they’re capable of playing nice with humans.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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