Artificial Intelligence-Technology versus employment is an age-old debate. But it’s becoming more and more real with each passing year, as companies lean towards automation to improve productivity and margins. Consider the numbers. A bank recently shrunk its card reconciliation team from 200 to just five. A 500MW thermal power unit manages with just 200 people today, compared with 2,000 a decade ago. PolicyBazaar diagrams to increase twofold its business without adding much headcount.
Thanks to AI, bots and algorithms, jobs are disappearing at an ostensibly faster pace than they are being created. K Sudarshan, managing partner, EMA Partners International, a C-level headhunter, says, “Operations across companies will be impacted by use of AI.” A corporate honcho who wished not to be named quips, “I would not want to be in college at this time.” However, Manish Sabharwal, chairman of TeamLease Services, the largest temp staffing company in India, feels, “AI might be relevant at company level but not at country level.” He points to India’s low per capita income of about $1,650, where World Bank ranked India 112th of 164 countries.
Countries with higher per capita income (such as US with $45,000, Singapore with $50,000 or UK at $37,000) will use more Artificial Intelligence platforms than India, as their labour costs are very high. In fact, Sabharwal sees technology workforce doubling to 8 million in just five years as more companies adopt technology tools. Ritesh Pai, chief digital officer, YES Bank, says, “When video conferencing started (back in the mid-1990s), people thought corporate travel will reduce, but that has actually grown 20% on-year. AI will assist humans, while humans will step in whenever complexity increases.”
AI doesn’t just take over jobs; it creates new ones. For instance, a German automaker in India has a 15,000 team with 1,000 engaged in making cars — the rest in coding. In India, manufacturing employment may peak at 17-20% of the total jobs — up from 11% at present — while most new jobs will be in the services sector. It may well end up being a question of reskilling, rather than losing your job to AI.
Nonetheless, there are some limitations to a machine that is not human, neither a clone, but a very clever software. It can mimic basic functions and is good at repetitive tasks, but need a lot more time to fathom the complexity of human interactions. For example, at Max hospitals which is beta testing machine applications, Artificial Intelligence algorithms are tested by radiologists and tweaked if need be to improve their knowledge.
Even if the AI tool is as accurate as a human, hospitals don’t want to take chances and have both humans and machines working together. Though this could change ushering in a leap for AI from labs to reality. Machines have comprehension issues with typographical errors, colloquial interactions and languages other than English or Hindi. The PolicyBazaar AI tool — based on Google platform API.ai and rebranded as Dialogflow — works well in English and Hindi but not regional languages.
The insurance platform has now started training it in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Besides, Gupta does not see Artificial Intelligence assisting beyond 85% of PolicyBazaar’s sales. “We need natural language processing, which may not be good enough to close all sales call,” he adds. If you want a loan in 10 seconds, there’s no room to negotiate. To take care of nuances such as a lower interest rate or deferred payment plan, a human will have to step in.
Nonetheless, “The future needs to keep pace with technology,” says Chugh of HDFC. In tasks where a human does not add value to the company, the machine is going to be its most valuable asset. It improves productivity, cuts cost and helps deploy humans in more ‘thinking’ roles. Kumar of Ixigo believes we are already in an era of hyper-personalised experiences. So, while, it may be artificial, it’s still intelligence.
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