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Asia’s AI Agenda: Human Capital and AI

Tremendous change is imminent in the profession of human resources.

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from “Asia’s AI Agenda,” a report based on a recent survey of Asia-based senior executives at global organizations. For more about respondents’ opinions on how AI and robotics are affecting Asian business, please begin with the executive summary.

In addition to compiling senior executives’ views about AI’s impact on the Asian business environment, we surveyed two dozen senior human resources (HR) executives in Asia—HR directors, recruiting consultants, and talent acquisition heads—to understand their views on AI’s potential to disrupt talent management.

The results revealed an assumption that tremendous change is imminent in the HR profession: 70 percent of respondents feel that AI and robotics will lead to substantial job losses in Asia over the next five years, underscoring a long-standing anxiety that many in Asia feel when considering the impact of new technologies.

“The pace of work displacement in Asia will be at a much faster rate, because of the relatively higher percentage of low-skilled jobs in the labor force relative to more developed economies” says Tak Lo, a partner at Hong Kong–based AI accelerator Zeroth.AI. In his view, this not only heightens anxieties for talent managers within enterprises but for government policy makers as well. “Asian governments are particularly suspicious of the threat AI poses to their efforts to transform skills in the labor force,” he says, noting that “governments should be more focused on ways to retrain displaced workers” rather than defending existing jobs from disintermediation.

The views of the industry professionals surveyed suggest that enterprises may soon be shifting their practices in HR management to achieve that focus. Nearly all respondents felt that their professions would be significantly altered with the advent of AI. However, they also felt that these changes would be positive. Rather than the HR function narrowing as robots replace workers, the majority of respondents thought that it would be expanded to oversee the management of both human and machine productivity.

AI industry professionals echo this positive view of the technology’s ability to enhance, rather than replace, jobs. The notion that robots will soon steal jobs at any skill level and decimate entire professions is an exaggerated one, according to Lin Yuanqing, the director of the Institute of Deep Learning at Baidu Research (Baidu IDL). “Even the best robotic financial analyst is only going to prepare a report at 70 percent of the capability and insight of its human counterpart,” he says, though admitting that the robot will complete the work in a fraction of the human time. “This is not scary. All our work lives will be complemented, for the better—we are not going to be replaced.”

Despite AI’s rapid advances (or perhaps because of them), skepticism remains, and the industry is taking pains to address the doubts. Recently, an industry coalition called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society was formed by some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon. But while this group’s almost apologetic name suggests that its main function is to stem the rise of job-robbing machines, the initiative’s primary role is to engender collaboration around data gathering and analysis to accelerate cognitive learning and drive further AI insight.

Next: Asia’s AI Agenda: Aware, but Unprepared?

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