A Definite Maybe to the Future

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The fact that humans use machines is old news. Even as far back 4,500 years ago, the pyramids were built with the aid of machines; likewise, airplanes, excavators, and sewing machines didn’t just appear out of thin air. People have always developed certain ‘relationships’ with their machines out of necessity; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to use them.

But machines are bringing something new to the table, and in doing so, redefining the relationship between humans and machines – they’ve now become ‘intelligent.’ Beyond the philosophical question of what intelligence means today (which experts can’t even agree on), we see that machines have already begun to take on very complex tasks — work that we were certain could only be carried out by humans until now. By this I mean cars that can travel independently through traffic, or software that can make diagnoses or draw up legal contracts – in other words, tasks of great significance. It seems clear that we will not only use and operate machines in the future, but also work alongside them. And that’s the fundamental difference.

We wanted to know precisely where this new collaborative relationship between humans and machines now stands, and what it’s future may be. For that reason, Dell Technologies commissioned an international survey distributed to 3,800 managers. The survey results are now available. First of all, the numbers confirm the assumptions: 82% of managers anticipate that humans and machines will collaborate as ‘integrated teams’ within their companies in as few as five years.

That’s hardly a surprise. Anyone who is exposed to digitization and the use of new technologies every day knows the potential. But how far those surveyed diverged in their assessment of this upheaval’s consequences was the real surprise. Here, a very strange picture was painted: Roughly half responded to the majority of questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ which means that we can actually speak of two main camps.

No matter what question was asked, whether it was if automated systems will result in more free time, if work satisfaction will be increased by outsourcing unpleasant tasks to machines, if productivity will rise, or how the new technologies will influence the division of labor, the managers surveyed were resoundingly undecided about the future, and always split into two opposing groups. For that reason, there was no definite idea of how collaboration between humans and machines could look like.

So are we steering full steam ahead into an uncertain future? It’s undeniable that humans will work in close collaboration with machines, but are we playing a game with an uncertain outcome, if even managers from key sectors don’t have a clear opinion? I don’t think so, because here is where the opportunity lies; the opportunity to actively determine the upheavals ahead of us, and make them an asset by using machines where they can sensibly support people and where they — as described in the introduction — adopt tasks that do not necessarily (or no longer have to be) carried out by humans. That also means that many job profiles will have to change considerably in the future, even those that we had never even anticipated. But to do so, we also have to coordinate our education system. I consider education the key to a successful future. If new job profiles are created, there must also be people who match those profiles in terms of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.

We still cannot say for sure where and how this great disruption to the working world will occur. But we’re the ones who hold sway over ensuring that technological progress has a positive effect on our working world and our everyday lives.

* Doris Albiez is Senior Vice President and General Manager at Dell EMC Germany

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