THC 2.0: How humans & machines will co-exist at the workplace


One CEO, four CHROs discussed whether organisations are ready for a shift aimed at enabling humans and machines to be co-workers.

From robots making pizzas to drones delivering them, technology, especially robotics is assisting humans in doing a lot now. At the same time, people even fear that it may take away some jobs, or change the way certain functions work. While HR experts and organisational heads across the globe try to understand the dynamics that will determine the way organisations function with humans and machines as co-workers, an eminent panel of CHROs from across industries, gathered at The Happiness Conclave to discuss what shifts in the mindset are required to ensure peaceful co-existence.

The panellists for the session were—Adil Malia, CEO, The Firm; Anil K Misra, CHRO, Magic Bricks; Rajat Grover, group EVP, human capital management, Yes Bank; and Ruchira Bhardwaja, CHRO, Future Generali India Life Insurance. The session was moderated by Deepak Deshpande, CHRO, Netmagic Solutions, who, on a lighter note started the session with a song. He then questioned how it would feel if we had someone beside us, with identical looks, and as intelligent or even more than us, and yet we know is not a human but a machine.

“The dynamic definition of happiness that keeps changing with milestones reached and changing circumstances, creates confusion in people.”
Adil MaliaHe established that all that had been fiction till now is soon going to be a reality. However, the concern is whether organisations are ready for a shift, such that they can create a stable ground, where humans and machines could exist together as co-workers. He quoted the CEO of Deloitte, Cathy Engelbert, who mentioned fusion revolution in an article, wherein she talked about the biological, physical and digital worlds, and how these three merged to transform various aspects of business and human existence.

Deshpande then passed on the baton to Malia, who elaborated on the Fusion Revolution Theory saying that, “We now live in a dichotomic world, where on one hand we are looking out for prosperity and success and simultaneously, on the other hand, we are also looking for peace. The two realities need to exist in a common world.” Although the two may seem contradictory, in reality, they are not, and Malia says that we need to create a fusion environment where one leads to the other.

“According to survey done in the UK, 75 per cent of the respondents were comfortable working with machines as co-workers. This makes me wonder if it’s more complicated for humans to work with fellow humans comfortably.”

Anil K Misra

Talking of happiness, Malia said, “True happiness is the eternal purpose of life and finding the path to that is the driver and motivator for everything we do.” However, the dynamic definition of happiness that keeps changing with milestones reached and changing circumstances, creates confusion in people. He further shares that the core purpose of organisations is to look at two parameters—to enhance gross capital value of the commercial world we live in, and at the same time, maintain the net happiness. Now, “How do we work along with the robots and become co-bots, is what needs to be seen,” he opined.

Taking the discussion ahead, Misra stated that the founder of the World Economic Forum said we’re going through the fourth industrial revolution now with technology disrupting the workplace. However, what has not changed over the years is the purpose of making the life of the end user easier. He further shared that a survey by a job portal in UK revealed that 75 per cent of the respondents agreed that they are comfortable working with machines as co-workers. “That number made me wonder if it’s more complicated for humans to work with fellow humans comfortably,” he said.

Bhardwaja, shared her thoughts next quoting the movie Iron Man. She talked about how Tony Stark, the protagonist, beautifully co-exists with the machine—his suit—which is his saviour, gives him power and makes him the Iron Man. She also tried to foresee how humans could really co-exist with machines. “In a few years from now, it could so happen that we will be served tea or coffee by robots, even without being asked for our preferences as they would already know what we want. And, some of this is already happening through predictive analytics. It has crept into our lives without us even realising that it has,” she said.

(L-R: Adil Malia, Anil K Misra, Ruchira Bhardwaja, Rajat Grover & Deepak Deshpande)

Talking of co-existence of humans and machines, she mentioned that the only way it could work best is when machines would be able to give us the small pleasures of life, that we seek subconsciously.

While the panel was discussing co-existence, Grover touched upon the much prevalent fear of losing jobs to robots. He said, “It is important to understand that it is not about anyone taking anyone’s job, but about upskilling ourselves and our people, to work alongside machines.” He assured that machines are made by humans themselves and they would always need humans to make them, modify them and get them to perform. “Machines are only there to help enhance our productivity and performance, and make us excel in what we are doing,” he said.

“The co-existence of humans and machines can work best when machines are able to give us the small pleasures of life, that we seek subconsciously.”

Ruchira Bhardwaja

Adding to the thought, Malia explained that smart machines or robots that were once part of fiction, are not all about fake voices or weird bodies. They will be about enhanced analytical abilities, which are humanly impossible. They will only assist humans in doing things more efficiently. He shared the example of an arthroscope used by surgeons, which is capable of seeing eight times better than what the normal human eye can see. “Therefore, the ability of such machines enables us to do things better than what we are capable of on our own. Now the question is, ‘how do we find equanimity from within us to be able to co-survive and yet continue to be happy in that reality?’” he opined.

Deshpande asked Malia, what new skills organisations will need to impart to people who will be required to work with machines, and whether machines need to be trained to work with humans at the same time.

“Machines are made by humans themselves and they would always need humans to make them, modify them and get them to perform.”

Rajat Grover

In response to this Malia stated that since knowledge is outpacing itself rapidly in the present times, the most critical competency one needs to have is the ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn. “Secondly, agility and resilience in the changing environment is very critical or we will be like dinosaurs that could not survive change and gradually reached extinction,” he said. He added that the ability to create positive workplace citizenship is also important for organisations, as engagement is not going to mean much in the coming times.

Bhardwaja added ‘street wisdom’ to the list of desired capabilities. “The ability to keep one’s eyes open to things that are happening around, will be key,” she said. Misra also added collaboration to the list. He cited the example of the real-estate sector and how robotics cannot yet make buying decisions for people. However, it can still assist people by showing them options, benefits and so on, based on their preferences, to create a good buying experience.

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