The pace of change is accelerating in the workplace, and this revolution is driven by the profound capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) that will fundamentally reshape entire industries. As AI capabilities rapidly accelerate, we are nearing an inflection point where utilising human labour over AI solutions will soon become untenable in many cases for ethical, risk and financial reasons.
McKinsey research found that 43% of organisations expect their workforce to shrink by 3% - 20% within 3 years.
McKinsey: The economic potential of generative AI: The next productivity frontier
This article explores the reasons that will compel organisations to augment, and eventually replace, most human cognitive and physical labour with technology as it become better, cheaper, faster and safer. It also includes advice on what to do today.
In sector after sector, AI is demonstrating superior performance to human workers. For example, in specialist healthcare AI imaging tools are diagnosing diseases more accurately and faster than radiologists and doctors. In finance, AI trading platforms make profitable investment decisions in nanoseconds that eclipse even the most seasoned human traders. The next generation of AI-driven chatbots are already handling customer queries with a high degree of accuracy, providing instant responses and improving customer satisfaction.
Across industries, we see the same pattern – AI outperforming the most experienced and skilled human experts thanks to machine learning algorithms that continuously optimise based on huge datasets beyond any human's capacity. Once AI consistently surpasses human capabilities, persisting with error-prone and inferior human cognitive labour will make very little economic sense.
Action: Amaze your customers by developing enhanced AI-powered offerings that are hyper-personalised. Create compelling products and services based on new insights and drive growth.
The economic argument for AI automation over human labour is compelling. Once trained, AI systems can replicate expertise and output limitlessly at marginal cost. Existing large language models (LLMs) can already undertake the labour of entire human teams for summarisation and document generation, or translation, at a fraction of the human wage cost.
As AI developer wages fall due to open-source libraries, automated coding copilots and code reuse, AI labour becomes vastly cheaper than human workers demanding ever-higher pay. AI-driven HR tools can scan thousands of CVs in minutes, shortlisting candidates based on specific criteria. This not only reduces the cost of hiring but also ensures that businesses engage with the best talent without human bias.
The financial incentives will drive mass automation as firms replace expensive human labour with affordable and scalable AI workers.
Action: Reduce operation costs immediately with AI agents by automating repetitive and mundane. Free up valuable employee time and resources to add more value to the organisation and its customers so that your business can grow without increasing costs.
Speed and productivity gains are a key advantage of AI automation. For instance, current LLM’s can read and digest in 30 seconds what would take hours for a human expert to process. AI's ability to rapidly synthesize vast quantities of information and data will enable businesses to accelerate innovation, creative endeavours, and research. AI algorithms can predict demand, optimise inventory, and even automate reordering processes. This ensures that businesses can respond to market changes in real-time, reducing wastage and improving efficiency.
Not only is AI faster, it can operate tirelessly 24/7 with no breaks, leave, or downtime. Replacing human resources with indefatigable AI automation boosts productivity and business outcomes.
Action: Equip employees with AI skills now to augment their capabilities to drive productivity. Show each employee how to work with AI-assistants to take on time-consuming tasks accurately and at scale, empowering and freeing your team to accomplish more meaningful work that adds-value.
There are also moral and ethical imperatives for choosing AI over human labour when superior AI capabilities can save lives. For example, persisting with error-prone human drivers who cause 1.3 million annual fatalities versus adopting autonomous vehicles that could save millions of lives will soon be unconscionable. In fact self-driving cars are already safer than cars driven by humans measured by the accident rate over distance.
Likewise, if AI imaging tools and medical robots demonstrate better patient outcomes than human doctors and surgeons, it would be unethical to persist with the inferior and riskier human option. As AI consistently proves safer, continuing risky human practices will become unjustifiable.
Action: AI replacing physical labour and the associated risks to humans in the form of AI-powered robots will take longer but use AI now to analyse business risks and minimise them.
No sector will be unaffected
The scale of workplace AI adoption will be unprecedented, transforming jobs from manufacturing to healthcare to finance. Unlike past automation revolutions, advancements in machine learning mean that even highly cognitive jobs once considered safe from automation are now vulnerable.
Natural language processing enables AI to excel at knowledge worker roles like legal assistants, financial analysts, and medical technicians that involve accessing, processing, and communicating complex information. The breadth of human jobs open to replacement by AI automation is simply staggering -even if AI evolution stopped today.
The human role
A future where AI takes over only routine tasks while humans still focus on higher-level responsibilities like strategy, innovation, and leadership is expected by many. However, AI capabilities are quickly reaching the point where knowledge work and managerial duties can also be automated – without the constraints of human bias of inability to assimilate large amounts of data and react to change.
Rather than a neat delegation between humans and AI, we will see increasingly broad replacement across occupations. Firms may retain a skeleton human staff for oversight, governance, and public acceptance, but the bulk of operations will eventually be AI-driven.
The augmented workforce
The mass replacement of human labour with AI automation will fundamentally reshape the workforce and challenge traditional notions of jobs and careers. New roles may emerge in AI training, management, governance and ethics but these would be limited in number and eventually automated too.
For the masses of workers displaced by AI, the loss of labour identity, social structures, and income could entail significant transition risks. We will need imaginative solutions, from universal basic income to new purpose frameworks, to manage this complexity.
The bottom line
The economic, moral, practical and competitive imperatives for automating most human tasks and jobs using AI solutions are inescapable. Much as machines replaced human physical labour during previous industrial revolutions, the AI-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution looks set to sweep away most of human cognitive and creative labour. Our best course is accepting and even embracing this future. Those organisations that do will be the success stories of the future.
This article was inspired by a video by David Shapiro.
Thanks for reading.