AI – friend or foe?

Nicolette Barnard, Head of Siemens Pacific HR. April 20, 2018

Before I get to the answer, let’s address the elephant in the room and understand why we are so concerned with AI taking jobs now. For decades, automation has been replacing workforces, but at no point has the discussion been as robust as it is now. The answer lies in Professor Aleksander Subic’s comments at our last Digitalize conference:

In the past automation was considered a threat to low-skilled labour. Now many high-skill functions – including interpreting medical images, doing legal research and analysing data – are within the skill sets of machines.

Suddenly, this isn’t just factory workers in a far location. This is about our jobs. Your job. And that gets conversations going. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that we don’t really know what the jobs of the future are.

Coming back to my "yes and no" answer: yes AI will replace many jobs in future, especially process-driven roles that don’t involve objective thinking. However, we’ll also see whole new sets of jobs created to support an AI-driven industry. When this happens, the real challenge will be if workforces of the future are ready to fill these roles just as quickly as the industries being disrupted by them.

Next week, our first cohort of apprentices will go to Hannover Messe in Germany– the world’s largest trade fair, where they’ll get to further discuss everything they’ve learnt about the concepts of Industry 4.0 and see some of it in action.

This group of apprentices will be the only cohort of students from Australia that has worked on some of our latest technologies such as Mindsphere and AI. In a shift from traditional entry-level jobs, these apprentices have been given experience across a broad range of skills and hands-on learning at Siemens and other companies such as Asahi Beverages on Industry 4.0 technologies.

Along with Swinburne University and the Ai Group, we’ve trained these apprentices not for current jobs or a specific role. Instead, a unique curriculum that challenged industry norms was designed especially for this batch, to teach them emerging skills and work with technologies of the future. Since the program launched last year, it has received immense interest from industry, State and Federal Governments and even globally.

As AI disrupts the industry and Industry 4.0 becomes a reality, the question and narrative need to shift from whether technology and digitalization will take our jobs to what we are doing to prepare talent that is skilled in working with the new reality.