Sramana Mitra: There is an IT gap that is complicated to bridge. I’m originally from India. I track the evolution of the Indian IT industry. A large part of that is in low-end business process outsourcing. I have seen so many applications where you put a piece of software in and 4,000 people are out of their jobs. This is already starting to flow through.
The projections for the number of jobs losses for this year is half a million. If you have a very low IQ person, you can’t expect that person now to be doing things of much higher order. That’s where the re-skilling or retooling is challenging.
Paul Daugherty: The thing we have to look at also is where you apply technology to help people transition. We have a large business in India. We found that the workforce has a lot of opportunity there. Certain categories of what we do are going more quickly, like testing. Test cycle execution, for example, is something a lot of people used to do. Now, you can automate a lot of that. Now, we’re training for test designs and other things that are still necessary and in demand.
One thing we’ve developed in our labs that is turning out to be very interesting is, we developed a machine learning based tool that can look at anybody’s resume and say, “Given the person’s experience and other information, what’s their risk of irrelevance in the short term?” The employee could also say, “What should I do? What are the adjacent skills that I can learn?”
We’re using tools like this for our workforce to understand the problem. We think that that kind of proactive approach is something more companies are going to need to deploy. If a company takes a view that they can flush and replace their employees, they’re going to be in tough shape. Every company has to figure out the right learning platforms to invest in people. That’s why we invest a billion dollars a year in training.
Sramana Mitra: This technology that you’re talking about, is that internal Accenture technology?
Paul Daugherty: It’s internal technology. To be clear, it’s still early stage. This is a good example of that bottom-up innovation. Somebody came up with the idea and just started doing it.
Sramana Mitra: I would be very curious what it produces and to what extent it scales.
Paul Daugherty: It’s still in beta. I think there’s a huge entrepreneurial opportunity there.
Sramana Mitra: It’s a hard problem.
Paul Daugherty: We’ve worked with a very large manufacturer to use augmented reality for some of their lower-skilled workers to help them learn faster. There’re a lot of opportunities.
Sramana Mitra: It’s an area to tap into. One of my hypothesis is further out, there are going to be implants that go into the brain and produce that kind of re-skilling and retooling effect.
Paul Daugherty: It’s more in the realm of prediction at this stage. I think it would be probably two decades before we have some of that technology. Right now, it sounds foreign. Who would want to plug in a memory USB plug-in? There’re a lot of ways we augment ourselves with drugs. We can view education as an augmentation. What seems impossible now may seem commonplace 20 years from now. That will be probably a couple of decades out. The ethical challenge we have to deal with is, how do we distribute that kind of capability to reduce inequality?
Sramana Mitra: Is this in your corporate innovation framework? Are these kinds of technologies showing up?
Paul Daugherty: Not directly in projects. It’s in our research. We do some far-reaching research on trends. I would say it’s not directly in the work we’re doing now. There are some really interesting startups out there. There’s one startup called NeuroPace that has implants for epilepsy patients that can track their brain signals. It will learn which patterns are going to lead to seizure. It can use neuro-stimulation to send a signal and try to head off the seizure. If I remember correctly, they have something like 50% reduction in seizures and improving continuously which is very profound.
Sramana Mitra: My friend died two years ago from an epileptic seizure. It’s a real issue. The reason it would be of great interest for you and for me is because of the kinds of issues that we just talked about. Let’s say a company brings in a technology that goes and displaces a million people across different organizations.
How about taking those million people and putting some sort of an implant or transplant in their brains and upgrading them to a different skill set? If that’s viable then there will be a very good question of why not.
Paul Daugherty: We may be writing a Black Mirror episode right now. What you’re doing with One Million by One Million is fantastic. We need more innovation. The challenge of every company we deal with is access to innovation. We’re in an era where innovation is what’s differentiating companies in every single industry we work with. We view Accenture as a platform for innovation to help with that.
Sramana Mitra: When I first designed the One Million by One Million curriculum, I wrote, “We’re working on a chip which can be implanted that has all of this knowledge that’s sitting on my brain, so you immediately startup at a different level.” This was eight years ago. I really had not thought at that point that we would be having this conversation that we just had where we are seeing that this may become a reality.
This was a fascinating conversation. Thank you for your time.