Increased investment and commercialisation of AI-related products and cognitive technologies points to an essential truth about the impact of technology on work: technology allows us to do more, and so we find ourselves doing more.
I remember avidly watching reruns of The Six Million Dollar Man as a child - and the opening narration explained the story of astronaut Steve Austin's tragic accident, with scientists confirming: "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."
So far, augmentation has been the reality of technology projects. We at DLA Piper have technology-driven methodologies to support the procurement and negotiation of IT and outsourced services, such as DLA Piper's ASCENDANT, which allow for even greater automation and provide cost efficiencies for our clients.
While our clients' transformational technology projects often demand investments of considerably more than six million dollars, rarely is the aim of the technology itself to replace humans.
Redundancies might be a side-effect of commercial models that rely on labour arbitrage to deliver a lower total cost of ownership for the customer, but this often leaves the overall number of employees unchanged. Most commonly, the human worker needed to do the task is based in a different country, rather than taken out of the equation entirely.
The real step change with artificially intelligent systems - machines that can truly learn, improve and adapt over time - is that they do become capable of directly replacing human operators for some tasks. Again, over time, the number and complexity of the tasks than can be entrusted to the machines expands.
This does then have further implications, as noted by DLA Piper partner Kristof de Vulder, on the impact of robotisation in general, and technology and sourcing contracts in particular, in his article "the changing face of enterprise: AI and automation".
So what future for the human worker?
Certainly some, possibly many, jobs currently undertaken by humans will essentially cease to exist. But we've seen this before in other areas. Indeed the very word "computer" would have been commonly understood to refer to a particular type of human clerk in the first half of the 20th century, rather than the machines we associate it with today.
Those jobs were replaced by machines, but we ended up with systems analysts, IT technicians and app developers instead. As an optimist - and the father of two pre-school sons who I hope will, through a nurturing upbringing and formative education, become productive global citizens - I have to believe that there will be an entirely different landscape of opportunity for the workforce of tomorrow.
On Wednesday September 28, at the third DLA Piper European Technology Summit in London, key decision-makers from across Europe’s tech sector will join us to explore the latest trends in automation and artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Fintech, cybersecurity and more.
Not every commentator is as optimistic as me on the future of the workforce, though, and together with several leading industry executives one panel session will specifically look at use cases of AI, while another will explore the regulatory and commercial evolutions that are forming a basis for a flexible employment market in the future.
These sessions will help business leaders better understand the impact of progressive computer systems that can perform tasks normally carried out by humans as well as assess the impact of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence on labour markets worldwide and what this will mean for employees and employers.
If you'd like to hear different views on the topic, or add your own voice to the conversation, then register your interest now to attend this exclusive event.
To participate in the conversation online, follow the #DLAPiperTech16 hashtag.
Gareth Stokes is a Partner in DLA Piper's Technology and Sourcing Practice.