The Implications of Automation, Augmentation and AI on the Jobs We Do

“To what extent should we push automation and augmentation? It all depends on the decisions each employer makes, or decisions about government policies and incentives. The future is not a function of technology, but a function of people and the choices they make,” said Professor Emeritus Steven Miller. He spoke at the first Fireside Chat, which took place on September 2, 2022. Organized by Singapore Management University (SMU) Center for Management Practice in partnership with SMU Libraries, the in-person event hosted students, faculty and staff at SMU Li Ka Shing Library.

Themed “Automation, Augmentation and AI: Implications on the Jobs We Do,” the event served as a platform for Professor Emeritus Steven Miller to share his insights into the evolving relationship between the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the nature of jobs work and professions. Moderated by Wong Yuet Nan, Affiliated Faculty and Adjunct Teaching Mentor, SMU School of Computing and Information Systems, the session offered the audience an opportunity to engage with Prof. Miller’s views during an interactive question-and-answer dialogue.

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In her opening speech, Dr. Havovi Joshi, Director of the SMU Center for Management Practice (CMP), shared that the joint session should provide a platform for robust debate on relevant issues and make a significant impact at a time of change, particularly in areas that affect them Innovation, industry and internationalization. This initiative also aimed to bring together diverse partners, including SMU faculty and students, to build, enhance and share the collective knowledge of Asia from CMP and the broader SMU community.

Conceived three years ago but shattered by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the first Fireside Chat series finally took place in person on campus, a testament to the persistence of colleagues working together to make this event a reality.

“Let’s not hold up AI as some kind of holy grail. Instead, let’s talk about how we can really understand AI,” commented Prof. Miller, setting the stage for a pragmatic discussion at the beginning of the session. “In plain language, AI gives machines the increasing ability to think, plan, learn, communicate and perceive.”

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Prof. Miller summarized how AI is being used by companies, governments and businesses around the world. Since their introduction in the 1970s, many developments have converged so that AI algorithms are now being used to make better predictions, understand language, improve modeling and simulation, and for robotic process automation.

“Augmentation complements people at work. It is indeed a tremendous addition to get the job done,” said Prof Miller. Regarding the impact of augmentation on jobs and employment, he underscored two points about the fact that despite more automation and augmentation than ever before, more people are employed in modern history than ever before.

First, this could be attributed to a productivity-related increase in the number of jobs, as productivity induces existing demand. A task can be automated, but this leads to an increase in demand for a commodity or product and a corresponding increase in tasks and jobs.

Second, automation and augmentation can impact productivity, resulting in new jobs and careers being created within the ecosystem. To illustrate, Prof. Miller gave the example of a new job title, such as social media curator, that is becoming a reality through the use of AI in organizations.

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“Interestingly, the biggest impact will not be job numbers. It will be in the nature of the jobs,” commented Prof. Miller. He gave an example of the trend of increasing numbers of gig economy workers and the fact that 11 of the world’s 12 largest economies are in short supply.

In this regard, Prof. Miller argued that augmentation and automation are indeed critical to maintaining existing levels of output and encouraged the audience to envision how a wide range of job roles and skills are required to create them , use and operate AI-enabled tools and work processes.

Prof. Miller responded to questions from the audience. The fireside chat ended with closing remarks from Shameem Nilofar, University Librarian.

Photo credit: SMU, Professor Emeritus Steven Miller

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