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Cyborgs or replicants? How the merging of human and machine is coming to a workplace near you

Singularity’. This is when machines develop themselves faster than humans, giving them control over their own evolution (and ours). While this sounds like something out of science fiction, one particular manifestation of singularity – the merging of human and machine – is very much becoming a reality and heading to a workplace near you.

This human-machine employee fusion appears to be two-directional. At one end, technologies are available that augment people’s minds and muscles with machine-like capabilities. For example, an EU project called ProeTex has focused on the safety of firefighters by integrating wearables into their clothing that detect carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels. Additionally, Panasonicis developing an exoskeleton ‘Assist Suit’ to enable employees in manufacturing and agricultural industries to lift very heavy items. It is currently being trialled by BMW and Audi.

At the other end of the scale, robots are being developed to emulate and supersede human employees in thinking, feeling and appearance. For example, ChihiraAico is the lifelike Japanese android sales assistant that helps customers around the store. While IPSoft’s AI mortgage call centre representative, ‘Amelia’ quickly learns about the customer’s needs while on the phone to them, and can use her flawless data bank to provide in-depth information about mortgages to facilitate customer purchasing decisions.

Whether the future employee is a machine-enhanced cyborg or a fleet of human-like replicants, it is clear this new wave of ‘digital talent’ can be hugely beneficial to organisations, providing opportunities to vastly improve productivity and innovation across all areas of business. And for those who think the cyborg-replicant invasion is years’ away, reports indicate the smart machine industry is growing at an annual rate of 20%, with AI reaching $15.3 billion and predictive analytics software soaring to $6.5 billion by 2019.

Over the course of my next few blogs, I will explore a number of trends – from the future data scientist and the digitisation of emotional communication, to AI leadership and robot-human teams – that illustrate how the two-way merger of human and machine is changing the workplace, and what leaders should be doing now to harness this digital talent wave.

What digital talent trends do you see on the horizon?

Find out more about our work in digital transformation.

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