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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bell

Future Work: Augmented Labor

["Augmented Labor" is one of 5 Near-term Realities of Future Work. Click here to see all five.]

Most of the business press on robotics highlights job displacement by robots. Some of that will happen. The mounting evidence is that we are seeing technology and data innovations that actually augment labor.

Technology-enhanced talent comes to life in three ways:

Inline Guidance: Instruction or reference material delivered at the point of need (e.g., AR).

While today’s hype is on ‘metaverses’ portrayed as illustrated virtual realities slicker than their great grandparent, Second Life; augmented reality (AR) has been quietly making progress as a valuable B2B training and resource tool.

Toyota & Microsoft HoloLens equips line workers with Microsoft HoloLens AR to deliver self-guided instructions and on-the-job guidance on the assembly line. Workers wear a headset and instantly become something more. Schematics with instructions can be overlayed at the ‘point-of-work’ improving quality and speed. So far, they have reduced inspection time by 20%.

Augmenting Specialists: Extra tools & data to simplify or improve the work of specialists. Think about your most valued talent. If you are a law firm this might be your lawyers; and engineering firm, it’s engineers. How do you constantly look for ways to augment their efforts simplifying low-value tasks and enhancing the value of outcomes and impact?

At Travelers Insurance two of the most valuable roles are underwriters and claims adjusters. And there are a lot of these at any insurer. Today, they can use technology like the Hover mobile app to quickly assess the materials needed to repair or rebuild a structure after an event. Point Hover at a building and it instantly catalogs all the surface areas and reports out how much paint, lumber or roofing materials are needed in a repair. This is a great timesaver on a low-value task (unless you get it wrong, of course).

Travelers now has more than 650 drone pilots amongst its’ claim adjuster staff. This literally gives them the superpower to fly over a storm-damaged township or an area ravaged by wildfires like this here in New Mexico. This fast assessment gives them the ability to get checks into the hands of homeowners and business owners much sooner. Underwriters are now augmented by data tools and sources. Geospatial data from many sources now reveal risks to commercial property in new ways. They can layer in flood plain data, weather data and other factors that can impact the risks of a business.

Augmented Intelligence: Connecting AI to enhance the work. There are dozens of startups in marketing aiming to deliver AI-created copy for ads. Pencil goes further to use AI to develop copy and visuals for performance ads in social. Will this put copywriters and designers out of work? Not really. It’s another great example where the tool augments the individual and makes them more valuable as editors and creators of far more challenging work.

Genpact uses big data algorithms and consolidates engine signal data, service logs and more to predict aircraft engine failure. Using data + human intelligence, they can reduce engine downtime by 20% with a 3-year, $50M cost saving.

We are seeing this close to home here in New Mexico. RS21 in Albuquerque has been awarded a Research (SBIR) contract from The Air Force Research Laboratory to expand its AI-powered satellite monitoring system as an autonomous solution for fault detection and prediction

Businesses too often imagine technology and data as a fully automated Amazon warehouse (ABQ1, the local Amazon warehouse employs many of the 3500 Amazon employees in New Mexico in addition to a sophisticated robotics capability). Talent & tech automation is not a zero-sum game. Finding ways to augment talent through tech and data will increase productivity, provide mobility for staff and help increase the value of your best talent.

Future Work: 5 Near-Future Realities was originally delivered as a live presentation to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque in 2022.


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