1.1 Why do we talk about Augmented Workers?
TECHNOLOGIES THAT SUPPORT EMPLOYEES
An employee who uses a tool to improve his or her performance is, by definition, an Augmented Worker or Augmented Collaborator. Man has become augmented from the moment he grasped a stone to break nuts more easily in order to eat. So there seems to be nothing fundamentally new here. The history of science and industry can be told through the inventions of tools, or machines, which enable an increase in worker productivity. These productivity gains have often been accompanied by a reduction in the drudgery of activities.
“Augmentation” is made possible by the use of technologies that allow employees to improve the way they work. These technologies must be integrated into the employee’s natural working environment. They should assist the employee in his or her activities, by simplifying work or controlling some of the variables that contribute to poor human performance. Ultimately, augmentation technologies enable employees to perform more specialized tasks with a higher degree of quality.
FROM AUGMENTED WORKERS TO INDUSTRY STANDARDS
The term “Augmented” only makes sense once a reference point, an initial situation, has been defined. For our purposes, the reference point is the current standard of the industry under consideration. When within an industry, the use of a tool becomes the norm, then it is no longer appropriate to talk about an Augmented Worker.
When in 1733 John Kay perfected the weaving machine by developing the flying shuttle, he increased the productivity of his employees compared to the rest of the industry. He had thus created a decisive competitive advantage by increasing the capabilities of his workers. Less than thirty years later, in 1760, his invention was used in all branches of the textile industry. The systemic impact of this increase in productivity was so pronounced that it aggravated the shortage of yarns in Europe, forcing the textile industry to restructure its production and supply chains in order to find a new economic balance. Hence, the flying shuttle became a technology so widespread in the weaving industry that the term Augmented Worker no longer applies.
The invention of the first computing machine by Alan Turing in 1936 lead to further innovations and computing power that allowed information to be processed in an automated manner. The first companies to use IT tools “augmented” their employees, relieving them of tedious tasks and were able to systematically process information – this in turn allowed them to create additional value. Companies using computers increased both their productivity and their reliability, giving them a decisive competitive advantage. Of course, noticing the effectiveness of these new software tools, other companies followed suit – to the point where we can assert that today no company can operate in a competitive environment without a computer.
THE IMPACT OF AUGMENTED WORKER ON THE EMPLOYEES WORK
An employee remains an Augmented Worker until his or her level of productivity becomes the new industry standard. Setting this new standard may require a reinvention of industries rules and balances. What is the employee’s place in this new equilibrium? That’s the whole point : Pitting the collaborator against technology is a wrong battle. The Augmentation do not relegate the worker to oblivion, they force him to move forward, to differentiate himself from the machine in order to generate ever more value. Technology must enable us to work smarter by removing some or all of its most painful aspects. Until now, Humans have always succeeded in inventing new jobs to replace those that have disappeared.
Uber is a good example of the impact Augmented Workers can have within their industry. To become a taxi driver, most major cities require drivers to memorize complete city maps of the cities where they want to work. In London, “the Knowledge”, the test to become a driver, requires knowledge of 25,000 streets and 320 routes. It takes on average between 2 and 4 years to pass this exam. Connected phones with GPS now allow anyone to become a VTC driver in a few hours. Artificial intelligence is now responsible for defining the itinerary. This AI has access to a huge amount of historical and real-time data allowing the driver to define the best route at any given moment. In addition to GPS, the connected phone simplifies the booking and payment of each trip, significantly improving the customer experience.
After a hectic period of deploying these “Augmented Drivers”, the entire industry is in the process of structuring itself around this new standard.
AUGMENTED WORKERS OR THE REINVENTION OF ACTIVITIES, JOBS AND INDUSTRIES
When we talk about Augmented Workers, we are not just talking about new technologies but about how to reinvent jobs, professions, and industries by redefining men & women’s place. We must not think of the Augmented Worker on his/ or her own but rather rethink the whole system in which this Augmented Worker will evolve.