Will artificial intelligence launch a new Bronze Age?

In my last blog, I discussed how and talent are the building blocks for ’ transformation to what Accenture calls “the New”.

But now let’s take a step back. Around five thousand years ago, humans in what is now China and Europe began working with an alloy of copper and tin. Combined, these two soft metals formed , a material harder than other metals available at the time.

In the Bronze Age that followed, civilization made great leaps in agriculture, writing and government, all enabled by the gains in productivity from this valuable alloy.

I don’t think it is unrealistic to believe that we are looking at the start of a new Bronze Age, an era of unleashed potential made possible by a new alloy: the combination of human and (AI) in the workplace.

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Our recent research into the attitudes of financial services executives and workers toward the future of the workforce indicates that this belief is widely shared. Nearly seven in ten (69 percent) financial services executives said the industry would be completely transformed by intelligent technologies, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said they expect AI to result in a net gain in jobs in their organization over the next three years.  Bankers were even more optimistic at 74 percent and 67 percent, respectively.  And 62 percent of all financial services employees (67 percent in banking) said they expect intelligent technologies to create opportunities for their work.

Across the board, survey respondents said they believed that AI would cause more jobs to be reconfigured than eliminated and that reconfigured jobs would be more strategic. Contradictions emerge, however, as many firms indicate that their people may not be ready for this transformation. Financial services executives say only one in four of their employees are ready to work with intelligent technologies, and nearly half (47 percent) say the growing skills gap is the leading factor affecting their workforce strategy. Yet only a small number (3 percent) indicate they plan to significantly increase their investment in reskilling over the next three years. Firms will need to resolve these contradictions to make real progress in creating the human/AI alloy needed for the new Bronze Age.

Digital in general, and AI, in particular, can transform financial services HR support in multiple ways, with three levels of transformation to be reached:

  1. The first level of transformation is to digitize the existing processes linked to workforce management, lightening the process weight and facilitating new ways of working—ranging from tackling processes such as role fulfillment and evaluation to personal development and enhanced collaboration.
  2. The second level of transformation—which, like the third level, cannot be done without reimagining the way people and machines work together—is to pivot the workforce by supporting employees as they reinvent their role within the organization. Our research indicates that a large majority of workers are eager and willing to be retrained (with as many as 85 percent saying they would invest their free time to learn new skills).  Accenture recently announced a $ 200 million commitment to education, training and skills initiatives over the next three years, to equip people with the skills needed for the new work environment.
  3. The third level of transformation is “scaling up to the new”—that is, augmenting people’s capabilities to develop new business models using artificial intelligence. Scaling up means promoting innovation within the whole organization, through a different HR management model, different organizational structures (such as the tribes model) and different evaluation KPIs.

A few banks and insurers have already started applying AI to their HR management, but the journey through the three levels has not yet been made at scale and will require significant investment in talent management, retraining and redeployment.  The new Bronze Age will confer advantages on firms that can harness the human/AI alloy, but doing so will require a serious commitment to the human as well as the AI part of the mix.

Learn more about Accenture’s research into automation and the future of the workforce in our report, Reworking the Revolution.

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