What the Rise of the Exoskeleton means for the Future of Work

3 years ago admin Comments Off on What the Rise of the Exoskeleton means for the Future of Work

When you hear the word exoskeleton, you might think of super suits that boost physical abilities, perhaps you imagine something from science fiction. However, there is a real change that is occurring in places like Lowes where workers get a boost while lifting or in Mt Sinai hospital where patients regain their physical mobility.  We can now enhance our ability beyond what we were originally designed to do using exoskeletons.

Beyond physical exoskeletons, there is an opportunity to provide a virtual exoskeleton for the knowledge worker.  Exoskeletons focus on taking our human abilities and increasing them using huge amounts of data and sophisticated algorithms.   Rather than replacing workers, this mix of human skill and AI will propel workers into faster and better productivity across a wider range of outputs.  While this might be a silent revolution, it is already delivering results.

How do you recognize if a technology provides an effective exoskeleton? Here are the core characteristics:

1. Enhance not replace

Exoskeletons enhance your output rather than replacing you. Because of this they are often requested by individual workers rather than mandated top down.

2. Collective Intelligence

Exoskeletons accelerate human skills by incorporating intelligence across many humans.  The name machine intelligence is misleading because the source of the insight is human.  The system learns behaviors across a large number of other people allowing for a collective intelligence to emerge with every new decision.   

3. Human-in-the-loop

Many Exoskeletons use human-in-the-loop AI techniques to boost accuracy in the face of complexity.  Human-in-the-loop systems are only activated on a small portion of the surface area of a problem.  Accessing an army of distributed humans invoked a small fraction of the time may add latency on that particular task, but the speed is regained on the next iteration. A small tax that is worth the benefit.

4. Adaptive

Exoskeletons adapt to your workflows rather than asking you to change how you work.  The Iron Man analogy for an exoskeleton looks good at first, but it misses the mark.  The best exoskeletons are barely visible so you can benefit from collective intelligence without being constrained by it.

5. Data Driven

An exoskeleton can identify and learn because it has access to massive stores of learning data. Without that data, it would never have enough versatility to apply to real world situations. This means that the exoskeleton with access to the most data wins.

If you use that lens, you can see that exoskeletons are being adopted all around you. That SMS you wrote is auto-corrected and completed using predictive text from t9. Grammarly improves our grammar when you are writing an email and that, according to HBR is a serious boost to your productivity.   Meeting scheduling is faster with Cortana from Microsoft or Amy from X.ai because they reduce time spent on calendar ping-pong.   When you get into the meeting Eva, from Workfit is there to help you facilitate the meeting and capture the notes to create a shared understanding of action items and decisions (Disclosure: I work for Workfit). When you get back to your office, Einstein from Salesforce updates your forecast reflecting the probability that meeting will result in a sale.  According to the Economic Times, organizations with AI like this expect to see a 39% increase in revenues.

Why is the rise of exoskeleton important? If you want me to assure you that the fear about AI taking away jobs is overblown – you will be disappointed.  According to a 2013 Oxford study, 50 percent of jobs today will be replaced by robots over the next 20 years.   However, rather than trying to stem the inevitable proliferation of robots, I believe that success will lie in the acceleration of human productivity using exoskeletons.  Exoskeletons are all about job enhancement and creation. With exoskeletons in the mix we have a chance to stay ahead of the job destruction havoc wreaked by the robots.  

Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo and an AliBaba board member, shared with me a few weeks ago: The best executives s have very strong executive assistants that help organize calendars, meetings and allocate their time.  Simple, yet incredibly effective.The role of the AI exoskeleton is to democratize this ‘assistant’ skill set for the rest of the workforce that can’t afford dedicated assistants.  With exoskeleton’s in our midst, we silently become more efficient and we extend the range of what we can competently do.  It is a revolution that is far less dramatic than the one occurring with robots, but it is also a beacon of hope for our future.

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