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18th Oct 2023

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Navigating the Disruption: Deborah Threadgold’s Insights on AI and the Future of Work

In a recent keynote address at the IMI National Leadership Conference, Deborah Threadgold, General Manager for IBM Ireland, shed light on the profound impact of AI on the workforce. In a world that has witnessed technological advancements as a powerful enabler, Threadgold shared her insights on how AI is rapidly evolving to become a driver and a disruptor of industries, provoking thought-provoking questions on how we can harness the power of AI.

Deborah Threadgold began by reflecting on the acceleration of AI. She highlighted how technology, especially AI, played a pivotal role in responding to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she emphasized that we are now at a juncture where AI is transitioning from being a mere enabler to a driver and a disruptor in its own right.

One of the most striking observations shared by Threadgold was the transformative potential of generative AI. She underscored how this technology could impact every job and every task, from entry-level positions to top executives. The division of labour between humans and machines is evolving, with a prediction that by 2025, 87 million roles will be disrupted, while 97 million new roles will emerge. These new roles are yet to be fully defined, adding an air of uncertainty for organisations and individuals.

Threadgold also touched upon the apprehension surrounding AI, especially in Ireland, where a significant portion of the workforce expressed concerns about losing their jobs to automation. However, she stressed that IBM’s perspective on AI differs. Rather than replacing humans, IBM believes that AI will augment human capabilities. As she aptly put it, “AI won’t replace people, but people who use AI will replace people who don’t.”

The Changing Landscape of Work

To adapt to this changing landscape, organisations are modifying their operating models. Simply automating existing processes won’t make them better; instead, they are integrating new technology at the core. An impressive 87% of executives believe that AI will augment job roles rather than replace them.

Threadgold also discussed the ongoing importance of STEM skills, and highlighted that people skills, such as communication and creativity, are becoming increasingly valued due to the evolving human-machine partnership. Those who understand how to effectively utilise technology while harnessing their people skills will thrive in this new environment.

In an era where AI increasingly influences decision-making processes, the issue of transparency becomes paramount. Threadgold discussed the importance of “explainability,” a concept that extends to AI for businesses and consumers alike. Users need to know the origin, accuracy, and basis in fact of AI-generated information to trust and effectively use it.

IBM’s HR Transformation

Deborah Threadgold shared a fascinating example from IBM’s own HR department. They embarked on a significant transformation journey, starting with the introduction of self-service solutions and gradually integrating AI technologies like chatbots. These digital workers streamlined processes, such as identifying gaps in employee readiness for promotions or handling out-of-policy expense claims, significantly reducing time and increasing productivity. It’s vital to note that AI serves as a tool to assist human decision-makers, not replace them.

Threadgold’s personal journey to leadership is an inspiring narrative that underscores the importance of continuous learning and mentorship. Her path, from a receptionist to an MBA graduate, exemplifies the transformative power of education and mentorship in career growth.

Overall, Deborah’s keynote shed light on the transformative power of AI in the workforce. While it brings disruption and challenges, it also creates new opportunities and demands for skill development. As the world grapples with these changes, it is imperative to recognise that AI is not here to replace us but to augment our capabilities. To navigate this evolving landscape successfully, a combination of STEM skills, people skills, transparency, and continuous learning is key. Ultimately, the future of work is one where humans and machines collaborate to achieve greater success.

Interested in learning how you can harness the power of AI for your organisation? You might be interested in the IMI AI for Senior Leaders programme, or the Digital Disruption and Transformation short programme.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is AI transitioning from being an enabler to a driver and disruptor in industries?
With the advent of generative AI, this technology is now becoming a disruptor in its own right, as it becomes more accessible to workers across all levels of an organisation.

What are the implications of the evolving division of labor between humans and machines in the context of AI’s impact on jobs?
AI won’t take your job, but someone who uses AI might. The key to effectively harnessing AI technologies is not to use them to replace human workers, but to allow humans to focus on the tasks that technology can’t handle.

How are organisations modifying their operating models to adapt to the changing workforce landscape, as mentioned in the content?
Organisations are integrating AI technology into all functions, for example IBM has created AI HR workers to handle tasks that used to be very time consuming for human workers.

Why are STEM skills and people skills becoming increasingly valued in the evolving human-machine partnership?
Humans need specific skills that AI doesn’t have, for example STEM skills, people skills, and creativity. This is where human workers can really shine, while AI can handle the more manual tasks.

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