(As originally published on LinkedIn, 18 October 2017)

Artificial Intelligence may be the key to a smarter workforce

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By: Biren Agnihotri, EY Canada’s Intelligent Automation Leader

Sharing economy expert April Rinne says that by 2020, 90% of the world’s population over the age of 6 is likely to have a mobile device. As the globe becomes more connected, smart and automated – with the rise of more data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic process automation (RPA) and Blockchain – it will inevitably alter our expectations about everything, from government to money transfers.

Right now, we’re at a critical point in determining how all of this technology will impact our interactions in the workplace and with the world around us. But it’s just as much about technology as it is about people.

Optimizing the human element of technology

As organizations grapple with an increasing number of routine, repetitive tasks that can drain employees’ time, AI and robotics are already demonstrating they can transform production. As challenging as this disruption will be to the workplace as we know it, there are upsides to it.

By deploying AI and technology wisely, we can free employees to focus on what they do best: creating, innovating and building relationships. Machines and software robots will enable employees to finally find the time to focus on more engaging work. Technology, after all, is only as good as the humans leading and using it.

Take the example of doctors who are already inundated with growing volumes of patient data. Machines could provide an AI-assist by processing information and adding much-needed context, so physicians can put more energy into patient care.

This theme emerged clearly in a recent study by EY and Forbes Insights which found that regardless of sector, people and culture are critical to unlocking business value from data and analytics. And those organizations that ensure their teams are fully equipped and required to use data analytics insights to present ideas, become leaders in comparison to their competitors.

But in order to ensure the workforce of the future is this optimal balance of human and machine, we have to hone in on new modes of education and development that focus on entrepreneurship and creativity.

At EY, we’ve been long committed to nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit through our flagship EY Entrepreneur Of The Year programEY Entrepreneurial Winning Women and other regional programs that celebrate innovation. We’re pleased to see others do the same – whether it’s promoting entrepreneurship in Canada or investing in their employees’ new skills. That’s because a better working world is one where people are prepared to evolve with these tectonic shifts so they can embrace disruption instead of resist it.

Working on the future

Canada has a key role to play on the global stage. But there is work to be done. In the EY-Forbes Insights research, we found that Canadian businesses are ahead of their peers when it comes to the adoption of advanced analytics, but they are less likely to make them a key strategic priority.

What’s more, the study shows Canadian business leaders aren’t consistently leveraging analytics in their decision-making to design and execute strategies. This reveals Canadian leaders could be doing more to fully capitalize on data-driven business initiatives.

As Canada celebrates its 150th year and a prosperous economic future, it’s more important than ever that we focus on advancing the technologies that can unlock new opportunities, new innovations and new markets. That’s why we’re investing in AI through the Vector Institute, an independent, non-profit research centre specifically focused on deep learning and machine learning through AI.

To further Canada’s contribution to AI, the Government of Ontario has recently announced an additional commitment of $30 million to the Vector Institute to work with academic institutions across the province to accelerate growth in the number of professional applied masters’ graduates in AI with a goal to graduate 1,000 applied masters’ students in AI-related fields per year, over the next five years.

And it’s why we take every opportunity to talk with our peers and clients about the human element in these exciting new technologies and digital capabilities. Tomorrow’s world is one where leaders are equipped with the skills and the vision to seize opportunities, driving not only a more productive workplace, but a more interesting, engaging and inspiring one, too.