Reflecting on the last two decades that I’ve spent in Silicon Valley, never has technology been so inextricably linked with every facet of human life as right now. Devices in our homes are Internet-connected or voice-activated. Smart virtual assistants can make restaurant reservations and schedule our appointments independently. We drive cars that can park themselves and planes that fly themselves.
However, the most dramatic change is the complete transformation in the way we work. By the end of next year, nearly half of all global businesses are expected to use robotic process automation (RPA), software “bots” that work side-by-side with humans and automate the repetitive work we do.
As "the future of work" becomes the present, giving rise to the total intersection of humanity and technology, we must ask ourselves, what do corporate ethics look like in the era of human and digital workers, and how does this serve society as a whole?
Here are three recommendations that business and IT leaders should keep in mind to ensure an ethical deployment of AI and automation as well as achieve a positive impact on the organization from these technologies.
Make diversity a top priority. Radical societal change brings with it a fundamental shift in trust. Automation and especially AI, comes with a unique set of trust issues: not only is the technology new, but it promises to disrupt nearly every existing industry.
Diversity is the single most important factor in how automation and AI will transform society. It will impact not only those creating and using the technology but also the people affected by the algorithms generated. And yet, the AI industry faces a stark gender gap.
The World Economic Forum reports that only 22% of AI professionals are women, and women face a greater risk of being negatively impacted by AI and automation technology. Lack of diversity fosters biases and narrows the focus of the problems new technologies are applied to solve. By contrast, diverse thinking at the highest levels of the industry can help promote innovation and make sure that these technologies are used to benefit different groups and demographics.
If I can offer business and IT leaders one piece of advice, it would be to hire more women. Hire people from diverse backgrounds. Hire people with perspectives that differ from your own. And listen to what they have to say to gain valuable insight and capabilities.
Put human values first. The question of whether bots eradicate or permeate bias is the wrong one to ask. Bots are made by humans and are only as moral and ethical as the humans behind the strategic decision-making. Bots don’t have thoughts, feeling or empathy.
So how do you teach a bot to behave properly? Ultimately, it comes down to the human behind the algorithm. I urge you to keep one concept at the forefront of your strategic decisions on the ethics of the future of work: the ethical sustainability of human values. We need to continue to value human workers, their contributions and maintain the values that make us human, like empathy, kindness, joy, respect, creativity, and passion.
The digital workforce offers undeniable economic benefit in the form of increased productivity, net-zero errors and lower costs. However, it’s the relentless commitment to sustaining human values that will determine whether workers put the time they save towards ventures that can never be automated: applying human ingenuity, tenacity, and creativity towards economic growth and society’s most pressing issues.
Educate for the digital workforce. How do we ensure humans are better off collectively in the long term with new ways to work? It begins with education. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022 new technology will create 133 million new jobs (compared to only 75 million declining roles). These jobs will place a premium on analytical thinking, creativity and complex problem-solving, over skills like manual dexterity, memory and reading comprehension.
Preparing the world for the future workforce doesn’t just fall to academic institutions to empower the workers of tomorrow. Businesses must invest in reskilling programs to help today’s employees adapt and thrive in this new economic order and create a workforce well-positioned for the 133 million new jobs of tomorrow.
If we hold ourselves accountable for the ethical deployment of AI and automation, prioritize people over profit, diversity over the status quo and enact the greatest benefit for the greatest number of workers, I believe the legacy of these technologies will be one of prosperity and human progress.
Neeti Mehta is a co-founder and senior vice president of Automation Anywhere, leading global brand and culture initiatives across the company. She brings more than 20 years of business management, marketing and entrepreneurial experience from a variety of industries including technology, business consulting and advertising. Mehta is the company’s thought leader and vocal advocate of bot ethics as the RPA industry continues to grow at an unprecedented rate due to efficiencies and productivity achieved from intelligent automation.