In a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His latest — How to “Defeat” Artificial Intelligence — is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.
The advance of artificial intelligence, via the first wave of automation, could seriously disrupt life as we know it. It’s not a surprise, considering that computing power doubles every couple of years. Can we say the same for the power of the human mind?
This technology is certainly going to have an impact on our workforce. Take a recent report from Forester Research, which found that automation alone could eliminate 8.6 million U.S. jobs by 2021, or, as one media outlet put it, “the equivalent of Florida’s entire workforce.”
Yet while the U.S. unemployment is currently 4.9 percent and has been low the last five years, many high-paying jobs, high skilled jobs have been replaced with low-paying, low skilled jobs, and this is not truly reflected in the unemployment rate.
Our nation’s population is also growing, which means more people for fewer jobs. The challenge is that many new, high-paying jobs will require new skills. And fewer workers will be required in the digital economy. We have to empower the American workforce to adapt to these changes.
Before we try to solve this challenge, let’s go back a century to the creation of the internal-combustion engine, which led to the automobile industry, which has been an economic force ever since.
Think about the impact the internal-combustion engine had on our country. It even impacted fresh foods by connecting rural markets to the city. The internal-combustion engine also created numerous jobs because it wasn’t highly technical, creating opportunities for vocational schools and programs.
When the internal-combustion engine was invented, there was a sharing of wealth and numerous touch points. On the digital side, it begins to narrow. And in the sharing of wealth in the digital world, where much of our economic growth has taken place, it’s very narrow.
For example, fast forward to today. In the digital economy, there are fewer access points. An app can be created by a small team and reach millions. Just look at the Kodak vs. Instagram comparison:
· “Kodak was founded in 1880, and at its peak employed nearly 145,300 people, with many more indirectly employed via suppliers and retailers. Kodak’s founding family, the Eastmans, became wealthy, while providing skilled jobs for several generations of middle-class Americans. Instagram was founded in 2010 by a team of fifteen people. In 2012 it was sold to Facebook for over one billion dollars. Facebook, worth far more than Kodak ever was, employs fewer than 5,000 people. At least ten of them have a net worth ten times that of George Eastman.”
If the Kodak vs. Instagram example has taught us anything, it’s that new technologies will require fewer resources and create fewer jobs. More industries will be disrupted, and the remaining jobs will require more advanced training.
Coal Mining to Coding to Call Centers
The irony is that many of the new jobs being created, in industries such as manufacturing, require people with certain technical skills that many employers simply cannot find. In a recent Wall Street Journal article about how more and more jobs are going unfilled because companies cannot find skilled workers:
· Amid anxiety about the disappearance of factory jobs, thousands of them are going unfilled across the U.S. The number of open manufacturing jobs has been rising since 2009, and this year stands at the highest level in 15 years, according to Labor Department data. Factory work has evolved over the past 15 years or so as companies have invested in advanced machinery requiring new sets of skills. Many workers who were laid off in recent decades—as technology, globalization and recession wiped out lower-skilled roles—don’t have the skills to do today’s jobs.
So what’s the answer for preparing an American workforce disrupted by technology? It’s education, training and redeployment…it’s about investing in people.
An amazing example of this retraining and redeployment can be found in the coal mining communities of West Virginia. Take Rusty Justice, who is retraining former coal miners in Appalachia to be app developers. It’s a fascinating story of an industry that has experienced massive layoffs. Mr. Justice’s program shows how someone who has solid intelligence, but who is stuck in a challenged field, can thrive with some workforce retraining.
And in Louisville, Code Louisville offers a free, 12-week training course to teach people computer software coding so they can get good-paying jobs in a growing industry. After meeting at a Code Louisville event at the Beecher Terrace public housing complex, several high school students created Beech Technologies as a venture to help small businesses improve their web presence.
Yet there are different sectors where retraining is more difficult. It’s not just industries like manufacturing and coal mining being impacted. Think about people who work in call centers. Given the automation that can impact these call center jobs there is a real need to help these employees retrain.
There’s a spiral of people trying to keep their heads above water, and their well-being is being impacted in an environment where learning and education are not easy; they start falling behind. When you start falling behind, you get left behind.
The knee-jerk reaction is to give people a raise. But when jobs get shipped over to India, or lost to automation, retraining and redeploying them to more productive opportunities is the better choice. It’s about investing in people so they are able to take new skills and training with them wherever they work or live.
For example, Comcast announced plans last year to retrain 84,000 of its call center workers who are on the front lines of customer service. In my company, Humana, we are using AI to support customer service representatives, as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal recently reported. This has required us to retrain many of our customer service associates.
We Have a Responsibility
Companies don’t always look at it as their responsibility to retrain, redeploy and move people to a different level. Some may view these positions as simply disposable, despite the fact that customer service is a highly critical function in today’s competitive economy.
We need to ask ourselves a question: what is our responsibility as an American business? American business has a responsibility to retrain its workforce. The job is not the issue; it’s the training and education and redeployment.
Some have proposed legislation that would raise taxes or distribute money to people who are impacted. This is a short-term solution. Instead, if wealth transferred through job creation and workforce education is pursued, many of these impacted people can make a long-term contribution to society and also be prepared for the next wave of disruptive technology, enabling their own long-term sustainability in the workforce.
Tsunamis generally come in three to four waves. The latter waves are usually the biggest. The wave of automation is building in the distance, and we can feel it. It’s going to disrupt entire fields. American business leadership has a moral responsibility to the employees it serves to prepare them not just for the first wave of automation, but the waves from Artificial Intelligence that will most certainly follow. Let’s do it together.
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