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Will a robot take my job?

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Recent research has found that AI has the potential to double the growth rate of the South African economy. Even though this is great news, it is worrying for many employees as they begin to wonder if they will be replaced by a robot, says ROB JARDINE, Head, Research and Solutions at the NeuroLeadership Institute South Africa.

Last year, research by Accenture and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) posited that artificial intelligence (AI) had the potential to double the growth rate of the South African economy and boost rates of profitability by an average of 38 percent by 2035. This is great news for South African businesses of course, but an AI-dominated landscape brings with it multiple ethical and social issues, including the problem of a labour force that feels redundant and whose skills may be no longer needed.

AI will undoubtedly change the world of work, just as the Industrial Revolution did in the 1700s and 1800s. Certain jobs will become obsolete, as intelligent machines will be able to complete tasks quicker and more accurately than humans. New roles will also be created – jobs that we haven’t even thought about yet. AI will be the biggest disruptor the business world has seen in over two centuries. It is little wonder, then, that people are already starting to get jittery about the possibility of being replaced by, or working with, a robot in the near future.

Why we see AI as a threat

Neuroscience, which focuses on how the brain works, has some valuable insights into precisely why AI is perceived as such a threat by the workforce. As social animals, our desire to be part of a herd – in this case a company – is hardwired into our brains, an evolutionary remnant of when physical survival depended on safety in numbers. Any sense of social exclusion, therefore, is felt as a danger to our very existence, and our brain is consequently sensitive to this trigger in our social environments.

Feeling excluded is one of the five social triggers that is interpreted by the brain as a result of its central organising principal: to minimize danger and maximise reward. These triggers can put our brains into a threat or reward state that has an effect on our capacity to solve problems, make decisions and collaborate. AI is particularly threatening because it can be triggered by all five areas of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness (SCARF ®).

AI threatens an employee’s Status, as their value in the workplace and as a productive member of society comes into question. Certainty is no longer guaranteed, as the future is unpredictable and employees wonder whether they will even have a job in the next five years. With AI encroaching on the workplace, employees feel as though they are losing their Autonomy because they cease to feel in control and think that they may not have options. Their Relatedness is threatened as they believe that they don’t belong anymore and are not sure which group they may belong to in the future. Finally, a sense of Fairness is triggered in employees as they feel as though they may not be treated equally.

One of the worst effects of being in a threatened state is that people are not open to change because the brain has less access to long-term memory and its capacity to think rationally and make decisions is reduced. This is because the brain is in a flight-or-flight survival mode, and so does not prioritise these actions. People are consequently also unable to see AI as something that could allow them the space to be more innovative, explore a new career, or give them more free time.

This brain state also affects the control of self-defeating behaviour; for example, an employee in a threatened state could stop being collaborative with their colleagues, procrastinate in their work, and have lower capacity to solve problems. None of this behaviour is conducive to doing business or ensuring a productive workforce.

Cultivating a growth mindset in employees

As AI becomes more of a permanent fixture in companies, employers should start focusing on fostering a growth mindset in their employees, so that they welcome the change that AI will bring, rather than fearing it. This mindset, pioneered by the work of Dr Carol Dweck, is based on whether employees believe that their abilities are finite or if they can be developed. If they do believe that their ability can be developed, then they will be inspired by the change and look forward to it as an opportunity to grow.

We must also remember that, with the dawn of the age of AI, human qualities become far more valuable. AI machines cannot truly collaborate and adjust their behaviour in relation to others’ actions. They do not have the same degree of social intelligence, and cannot become leaders. AI machines also lack business acumen and are unable to transfer their ‘skills’ from one industry to another. All these qualities, even in the age of AI, will still be a vital aspect of ensuring a prosperous society and thriving economy.

Entrepreneurship provides a solution

It is undeniable, however, that many South African’s jobs will become obsolete or change as AI becomes more of a permanent fixture in the workplace. The significant portion of SA’s workforce that is unskilled or semi-skilled will most likely be the first to be replaced by machines that will be able to do the work more efficiently. This will place pressure on individuals to change how they approach work and possibly to seek work in other sectors. However, this is no different to how jobs have evolved in the past. The introduction of more efficient farming technology a few centuries ago, for example, meant fewer people were needed to farm the land and so more workers were able to take up roles in other industries where there were labour shortages.

But with every door that AI closes to the workforce, another one opens – in this case, entrepreneurship. AI will make entrepreneurship an even more sought-after skill in the SA economy, as it focuses on innovation, provides employment opportunities, and has significant social impact. Entrepreneurship also gives individuals a sense of belonging, as being productive members of society provides Status, Certainty, Autonomy, and a sense of Relatedness and Fairness. People are able to elevate their level of contribution, they have more certainty and autonomy in their own work in an entrepreneurial setting, and can develop a more individualised sense of belonging by being able to gain as much as they contribute. This sense of belonging means that people are performing at their best, as they do not feel threatened by a change that may seem out of their control.

Of course, in order to retain employees, it is not feasible to ask them to set up their own shops. However, as employers, we can look at the ways that we define and integrate current employment when the machines join us in the workforce. By allowing employees more autonomy and control in the way they do and view their work, we can put them in a better brain state, as it plays to their social drivers. In most industries where the impact of machines will become more prominent, this is already being done in the advancement of the gig economy.

In conclusion, then, AI is definitely set to change our workforce in the next few decades, but not all these changes will be threatening. It is up to employers to ensure that their employees realise this by playing to the social domains that trigger the brain, so that every individual can continue to perform optimally, learn new skills, and work towards their future roles in stimulating our economy. If we are able to do this, we will ensure our brains will be at their best to face and embrace this change.

In a world that is becoming more mechanistic, it is our ability to be aware of our social surroundings that both sets us apart, and allows us to never fear a robot taking our job.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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