Ruwandi Perera explains how humans and digital workers can create value

“Hey Siri! Please mark my calendar for a meeting with Susan at 9 a.m. on Monday.”

“Hey Siri! Please call my hus­band on the speakerphone.”

“Hey Siri! Can you multiply 456 by 33?”

We often have a hazy view of what life would be like with bots – but actually, we’ve been living and working with them for quite a while. Siri, Alexa and Google have been of immeasurable use to us – from switching on the air conditioning to telling us where the nearest supermarket is, these digital workers have been helping us with our day-to-day work.

International Workers’ Day is observed on 1 May to commemorate many victories by the labour movement. This year however, when the world is at its highest peak in terms of technological progress, the day should be viewed in a new light.

Labour, workers, employees, productivity and work in general are changing with digital technology. Digital platforms, digital tools, smart bots and machines are becoming part and parcel of how we run our businesses and production processes.

And though there was resistance at the onset of this revolution some years back due to the fear of job losses to robots, the world seems more open to it now.

Today, we’re looking at digital technology not as a rival or threat but as a helper, which will enable us to break boundaries and reach our true potential. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has predicted that AI and automation will have a combined global impact value of US$ 15 trillion by 2030.

We’re getting into the multiverse, and looking at the acceleration of technology in areas such as climate conservation, agriculture and infrastructure development. Therefore, it appears that digital labour should be embraced and used to optimise our own value and productivity rather than feared.

So what are digital workers?

Simply defined, they comprise smart software in the form of bots, platforms and machines, which can automate business processes to achieve high levels of productivity. Most often, this means tedious, non-value adding processes such as data entry, system queries and so on.

More digital workers are being absorbed by companies for many reasons today. Aside from the apparent error free accuracy of work, they’re also ideal for working in a global environment where different time zones would otherwise interrupt the workflow.

Digital workers are looking increasingly attractive for Sri Lanka as a response to the rapid migration of talent, which the country is presently experiencing. So does this mean that there is in fact a threat?

There could be a problem because when it comes to running a business in a dynamic and challenging environment, ‘the show must go on’ even if it means going non-human.

Let’s take a look at (almost) everyone’s favourite AI chatbot ChatGPT.

From writing articles to developing code and analysing markets, it’s becoming a go-to tool for many individuals and businesses. Its accuracy rates seem to be increasing by the minute, thanks to its unparal­leled learning ability.

So will it replace workers in the IT industry, threaten the jobs of writers and make market analysts a thing of the past?

Not entirely… and only if we let it. The ideal scenario would be to command ChatGPT in a way that optimises our work, adds value, and allows us to invest our talent and thinking on other things that can’t be automated.

If we still need convincing, think of when fire was invented; it didn’t replace the cooking process – it only simplified the methods used to create heat. Similarly, digital bots aren’t going to replace the human mind. Instead, they will make it easier for us to think bigger since we wouldn’t have to worry about mundane and monotonous tasks.

In addition to digital workers, digital ecosystems too are becoming a way of life in companies. New platforms that connect multiple stakeholders and enable collaboration beyond physical boundaries are replacing boardrooms and office meeting spaces.

Digital tools and processes are making work faster, more accurate and easily accessible to anyone, whether they’re working in their cubicles, on their sofas or while on vacation halfway across the world.

It seems that everything about work is changing; so instead of trying to protect our careers and retain our jobs, we should be looking to use digital technology to co-create value beyond human limitations.

Digital workers are here to stay and if we work right, our wish will be their command.

So it’s time to rethink how we work – after all, why should we work harder when we can work smarter?