Towards a Healthy and Safe Work Environment: People Vs Machine

Hey! Without having double thoughts. I mean think about it, who does not like the idea of waking up every day to a life with less stressful activities – my home cleaned, errands are taken care of with the help of advanced technology. Time is saved and creativity is channelled to more productive uses. With this and many more, technology is the bomb. But then, I close my eyes and imagine a new work environment.  So, here is the game. Put on your virtual reality glasses, try to see into the future of work environment and tell me what you see?

1. An algorithm, AI, Robotics, Machine only work environment

2. The human only work environment

3. Human and Machine work environment – a complimenting work environment

What do You See?

Let us take our imagination a step further. Do you foresee robots teaching in schools? A sick baby is taken to the hospital and the consulting doctor is a robot? A robot administers the medications and injection? Imagine a robot performing surgeries like a heart or kidney transplant for example amongst others. You would want to think that for an organ so fragile, it should not be held by anything other than the human hands. Are you imagining a squashing? That’s it. Indulge your imagination in creating probable scenarios in the theatre room! Go further and imagine a robot taking delivery and related delivery surgeries? Considering that these technologies will increase productivity and lower production costs; it sure makes for an interesting world but really, how far do we go with AI and robots?

“She was working in either of section 140 or 150 when a robot from section 130 approached her and hit her hard and crushed her head.”

The above was culled from a post by David Brown (2017) from the article ‘A defective robot causes the death of a Michigan Woman’. Though rendered a bogus claim, there is also the doll collector who has expressed his fears regarding the proper regulation of robots. A coding error in robots, he stated, could make them prone to violence and to strangle human beings. So how reassuring does his closing remark sound?: ‘It is a machine and will always be a machine’?

Show Me that Perfect Thing

Do I hear you say after all human beings are prone to errors? No human is perfect and humans sure do make mistakes. Medical errors do occur. So, no one and nothing is perfect. Same with Algorithms, AI, robots and machine work. With constant improvement, science would one day attain perfection with AI.  More so, the challenges of commitment, motivation and engagement will be non-existent. War for talent or apprehension about talent shortage could probably be history. While some believe that the future world of work may have no work-force, organisations may need to first answer these basic questions:

  1. In the emerging new work environment, what skills are needed to gain the required competitive edge?
  2. Which of these skills are machine or human owned?
  3. Which skills can be machine replicated or performed?

Human Skills Still Relevant

The workplace environment needs to be a productive one whereof a high premium should be given to workplace issues such as loneliness, isolation, employee health and well-being; interactive work environment. Could it then be true that the most valuable work skills would remain unaccomplishable by machines? Let’s go further in our imagination and probable scenario creation. So, see yourself entering into organisations and you are introduced to robots as the CEOs, MDs, or COOs of the organisations. Though a new study by Oracle and HR Workplace has revealed the non-competitive edge Managers have over AI in certain trust-building and decision making areas. Some respondents have signified they rather trust a robot and AI Manager compared with humans. Not surprising as after all there would be no messy emotions, feelings of betrayals or let down amongst other human foibles, dynamic character and disposition. No biases, jumping to wrong conclusions or making judgements.

 Despite this, would AI or robots understand your feelings, share in your emotions, understand your mood swings?

Can AI and robot handle human vulnerability? During sickness or the period of loss, pain and depression, would AI or the robot make the good and perfect shoulder to cry on? Probably this is consequential if the work environment is ultimately AI or robotic. Can they provide on the job mentoring and performance coaching? Can they create a positive work culture? You arrive at the court and you are met with a change that you are now to be represented by a robot in the law court of which a robot is also the presiding judge. Is it something you would want to imagine or look forward to?  Wow! Machines may do well in technical, operational, computational and administrative skills but then, what about the soft skills? Skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, deductive and inductive reasoning, networking, relationship management, inter-ethnic and cultural relations remain highly and uniquely human skills.

This pictogram speaks for itself:

This write-up may therefore not have justified or exhausted the possibilities in a machine world; it is, however, an eye-opening personal observation towards a productive work environment that works.

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