Rise of the humans

A series of three papers on integrating digital and human labor and shaping a workforce of bots and their bosses

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without apocalyptic warnings that robots in the workplace will create a dystopian destiny. The convergence of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, machine learning, and cognitive platforms is potentially so disruptive that Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, calls it the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Proponents of this vision point out that:

  • Between now and 2025, up to two-thirds of the US$9 trillion knowledge worker marketplace may be affected.
  • The Bank of England estimates that robotic automation will eliminate 15 million jobs from the United Kingdom economy in the next 20 years.
  • Digital technologies will conceivably offset the jobs of 130 million knowledge workers — or 47 percent of total US employment — by 2025.

Now is the time for leaders of business to conduct conversations for a higher purpose: to identify the dilemmas, challenges and key considerations that will shape the future they want to create.

Disruption has been part of business for decades

Before the US transformed from an agricultural to an industrial economy, 41 percent of employment was involved in making food.1 Today that figure is less than 2 percent. The remaining 39 percent went on to other jobs.

Despite all the bleak views of the rising role of robots in the workplace, automation could not be occurring at a better time. Cognitive technologies are rapidly becoming more intelligent and affordable just when the global supply of talent is getting smaller and more expensive, making the use of digital labor necessary to drive growth. As we use more robots, they become cheaper. And as we use more of them, worker productivity rises and ultimately, so do wages.

These are some of the reasons a counter-balancing dynamic will take hold and job creation will be on the agenda after all. As a result, there is potential for an innovation and agility imperative taking place in organizations. Using these technologies, new products and services can be conceived, limited only by the scope of one’s imagination. As new businesses and offerings are developed, people will be needed to build, lead, maintain and market them. It will be incumbent on these organizations to grow their agility — and the agility of their workforce — to take on these new challenges. After all, financial capital will still need to be put to productive use.

Continuous organization renewal and learning will likely be a feature of work in the future — learning both for the known future needs and for positioning for unknown and emergent needs. It will all be critical. This is the reason that how we learn and what we learn in the workplace is set for a revolution.

It is nothing less than a call to arms for the leaders of enterprises and HR functions alike to take principled and proactive stands. Rather than be reactionary first responders, they should lead the conversation and preempt, understand, and manage the changes.

Read our Rise of the Humans papers to discover how digital labor is affecting the workforce and will continue to do so.

Rise of the humans: The integration of digital and human labor
The potentially positive outcomes of using cognitive technologies—from job growth to enhanced human skills to transforming enterprises into constrained innovation engines

Part 1

Despite doom and gloom scenarios for massive unemployment, cognitive technologies can spur new jobs and enhance human skills and expertise. The kind of jobs will likely change, however, especially middle-income routine jobs that are likely to be replaced by cognitive platforms. The challenge for leaders is to integrate and make the most of both kinds of labor, human and digital.

In Rise of the Humans 1, KPMG offers a five-stage process of inquiry that can help leaders systematically think through how the shape and size of their workforce should change. It also offers: 

  • four ways jobs are likely to be transformed
  • how cognitive technologies could affect HR operations
  • questions that leaders of businesses, governments, and society must tackle proactively
  • potential impacts of productivity increases, automation, enabling technologies, and new types of businesses and jobs 
  • an introduction to the workforce shaping process.
Rise of the humans 2: Practical advice for shaping a workforce of bots and their bosses
Explore the implications of Intelligent Automation (IA) on an employee base and how to shape a workforce of the future.

Part 2

How will your employees be impacted by intelligent automation? Are you, and your organization, ready for the workforce of the future?

Rise of the Humans 2 shares lessons from organizations leading the way in integrating human and intelligent automation (IA). It provides practical advice for company leadership and human resources to create a more intelligent enterprise and to accelerate organizational performance through an agile workforce strategy.

Read this paper for insight on how to:

  • profit from new economic opportunities while safeguarding the well-being of employees and other stakeholders
  • capture the cost savings and other bottom-line benefits of automation as employees focus on more valuable activities
  • manage the transition to the workforce of the future
  • anticipate the impact of automation on customer experience and prioritize customers over cost-cutting.
Rise of the humans 3: Shaping the workforce of the future
Visionary business leaders are preparing to shape their workforces in ways that enable them to adapt, evolve and succeed amid the ever-increasing impact of artificial intelligence.

Part 3

Managing the workforce of the future in ways that productively integrate AI into the enterprise raises big questions and places significant demands on leaders and HR practitioners. Rise of the Humans 3 addresses areas that KPMG has identified for exploration, design and development for future success: 

  • skills for the future
  • sources of talent
  • structure and organization of the workforce
  • services to enable the workforce
  • culture of the organization
  • leadership of change and transformation. 

Read this paper for four steps toward ensuring your organization has the right capabilities, in the right place, at the right time. Also in the report are key learnings from KPMG's workforce shaping projects in the insurance, banking, professional services and healthcare sectors. 


1 Dorothy S. Brady, editor, National Bureau of Economic Research, “Output, Employment, and Productivity in the United States after 1800.”