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Preparing For The Future Of Work: Sameer Maskey of Fusemachines On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work

An Interview with Phil La Duke

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Sameer Maskey.

Sameer Maskey is the Founder & CEO of Fusemachines Inc, an AI talent platform and services provider. Dr. Maskey has more than 18 years of experience in artificial intelligence, natural language processing, machine learning, data science and is Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University. After completing his PhD in Computer Science from Columbia University, he joined IBM Watson Research Center where he invented various statistical algorithms to improve speech-to-speech translation and question answering systems.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I lived with my parents and two siblings. Given my mother was a school teacher, I witnessed first-hand the impact good education can have on young minds. As for my interest in AI, and more specifically natural language processing, I owe that to my fascination with Hollywood science fiction.

After finishing high school in Nepal, I applied for schools and colleges in the US, and ended up at Bates College in Maine, where I studied math and physics. At the time, Bates did not have a computer science department, so I found some books in the library and started studying language processing and part speech synthesis on my own in my first-year undergrad. My learnings enabled me to conduct research in speech-to-speech translation systems, including a research project to build the first Nepali to English limited domain speech-to-speech translator. What started as an exploration of natural language and speech processing soon turned into a passion that led me to pursue a PhD at Columbia University. I continue to find AI research in language equally fascinating to this day, which is why I’m teaching it to future generations.

My career in AI formally began at IBM where I researched speech translation for many years before I founded Fusemachines, where I hope to make an impact around democratizing AI and AI talent.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

Owing to the digitization of the workforce, which Covid-19 accelerated, we are witnessing a rapid shift in how businesses function. Conversations around issues such as diversity, inclusion, pay parity and sustainability are taking center stage, leaving employers just as mindful of employee relations as they are of customer and client relations. To cater to a pool of talent that has more options to choose from than ever before, employers are bound to embrace a host of changes in the near future.

The ability to work remotely will likely top this list, followed by new levels of flexibility around work hours and leaves. Employees will also expect more creatively challenging roles and expect investments in technologies to automate mundane tasks. The new creatively charged, virtual work culture could also introduce problems such as mistrust or disconnect from colleagues and the workplace. Similarly, the concept of contingent workers will take a stronger foothold. Employees will want to experiment with more jobs than one and employers too might find monetary value in the gig economy. According to Gartner, 32% of organizations have started replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. On the positive side, tech advancements will enable the reduction of mechanical tasks and AI will take on a bigger role in the workplace to enable automation and training.

Employers stand a better chance to embrace these changes by employing training and development processes, which inherently help them tackle the skill shortage head on. Employers should also start exploring AI and other forms of advanced technology, which will continue to impact the workplace in the near future.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

College degrees do not always guarantee a good job and might not always prepare young people for real life. What is more important is gaining skill sets that help prepare for the next generation of jobs. Today, students have the opportunity to learn such skill sets on their own through online courses or through more economical and curated training programs. According to the US Department of Labor, as many as 17 million college graduates work in positions that do not require a college education. At the end of the day, if you are able to master the skills sets needed to carry out the jobs that interest you, it doesn’t matter if you learned those skills in or outside the regular two or four-year college framework.

Having said that, colleges do provide a structured learning environment with dedicated support groups of friends and faculty. Learning with peers has a lot of advantages such as team building and discipline. The network created in college and schools can be useful in the short or long run. It all comes down to assessing the economics of it. If one can afford it, college learning is a good and valuable experience, however not at the expense of bearing the burden of hefty student loan debts.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

It is certain that new types of jobs will emerge, owing to the rapid work evolution brought on by technology. AI-related skillsets alone will drive demand talent needed to fill jobs such as dialog training of AI systems, providing feedback to AI systems with data annotation, among others.

Job seekers should, therefore, start giving serious thought to what kinds of new jobs will be available,

which of those are of interest to them, and then look into best ways to make themselves ready for those jobs. Given the number of courses now offered remotely, in addition to traditional training offerings, the workforce has the option of choosing how to acquire the soft and technical skills necessary for in demand, high paying jobs.

The good thing is the workforce of the future is looking at endless remote working opportunities, which also means the ability to try their hand at a wider selection of jobs across geographies. Newfound access to training and ways of conducting business also means more scope for budding entrepreneurs.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

While automation and robotics can replace a certain number of jobs, they also create a distinct need for people to monitor automation and ensure scalability. Not everyone has to be a computer scientist or machine learning expert. As AI becomes ubiquitous, jobs such as dialog training, data annotation of text, speech and video, AI system output and bias auditing and decision monitoring will come to play. Automation will create the need for more data engineers, analysts and IoT network engineers.

As a result, upskilling and reskilling should be on both employees and employers’ agendas. Continuous learning is the only way to keep up with the newer, more in-demand jobs for those losing out their roles to automation.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

Work from home will certainly be an ongoing trend, however; hybrid workplace models will likely be more prevalent.

Although more workers will request to work remotely than before, not all industries and sectors can afford to offer this flexibility. For example, healthcare, hospitality and supply chain might not have the luxury. However, with technological advancements, work from home will continue to be even more seamless.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

We need a culmination of a number of changes to support fundamental changes to work, some of which include:

  • Organizational willingness to adapt to technological advancements, changing markets and business landscape, which will increase human-machine collaboration
  • Concerted efforts to introduce and maintain diversity in the workforce, which will increase the likelihood of innovation within an organization
  • Flexible work models, benefits, training, recognition and motivation programs to engage the diverse workforce
  • A bigger focus on collaboration and empathy, where people are encouraged to continually learn from and support each other
  • A societal acceptance around the fact that many jobs will get some level of automation or radical transformation hence, empowering the workforce to learn skills that will prepare them for the future of work
  • Consciousness around environment, health and sustainability as well as technology’s role in enabling them

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

For employers, fostering a meaningful company culture will be one of the biggest challenges in an increasingly remote working environment that limits in-person interactions and group activities. Asynchronous working will present another challenge as more employees are likely to work across time zones, thus directly impacting productivity.

For employees, the lack of in-person interactions can be just as challenging when building team rapport and trust. They might not feel the same level of energy as they would in a physical working environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

Inadequate social safety nets can translate directly to emotional and mental health concerns and it’s therefore imperative for employers to address them. Simple measures such as creating support groups and safe spaces for employees to share their concerns and carve out solutions can make a big difference. HR teams have a big role in enabling these processes and in addition, ensuring access to more health and disability insurance, keeping tabs of employees’ mental wellness through counseling offerings or anonymous surveys can be valuable.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

There is an abundance of opportunities and better working conditions in store for the future workforce. Remote working alone will open up numerous possibilities for parents, who can now choose to work without having to compromise on taking care of kids.

Employees and employers will realize the importance of upskilling and reskilling and together be ready for the future of work and spending more time on learning and innovation.

Technology such as AI and VR will produce more seamless remote interactions for the new hybrid workplace and AI-powered insights will make employers more intuitive and well-informed.

Furthermore, remote working not only reduces commute time but will drastically reduce carbon footprint, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

The gap between job loss and growth is matched by the severe lack of talent in high-technology fields. To address this, communities as a whole need to come together to prioritize STEM education, which can help enhance automation and tech-powered entrepreneurship and jobs creation. Additionally, education institutions, government bodies and large enterprises can make concerted efforts to train up and coming talent in industries and enhance skills where there is an evident shortage of talent, helping bridge the gap. Similarly, it is important to make investments in impactful communications around the importance of upskilling and guide people on how and where to access upskilling programs.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • TREND 1: Automation will take over mundane tasks, more specifically in customer-centric industries, such as finance, retail and media among others. For e.g., tasks such as handling applications, finding answers from unstructured data, and handling repetitive queries will be delegated to AI and insights-powered automation.
  • TREND 2: Employers will pay attention to employee happiness and engagement will be a core focus, particularly after the much discussed Great Resignation. They will also look to processes and tools that help capture employee data and metrics, which will help them gauge employee wellbeing, performance and commitment to their teams.
  • TREND 3: Employees will demand more upskilling and reskilling opportunities from employers. With more companies actively looking to create internal learning environments, employees globally have come to expect employer-sponsored training programs. Employees will also seek out opportunities to cross-train across business functions to expand their portfolio of skills.
  • TREND 4: HR Tech will be an explosive area of growth, with AI’s usage most prominent in sourcing, hiring and retaining the best-in-class talent. In addition to relying on skilled and trained HR executives, employers will be leveraging the power of data and AI to generate better AI-enabled skill matching, resume scoring, and candidate management and engagement systems.
  • TREND 5: Employers will continue to make strategic investments in communications and technology tools that employ sophisticated Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tools and techniques to deliver a seamless medium for remote working technology. By now, we have all witnessed the pros and cons of working remotely. Better technological and network advancements promise to make the process of working remotely just as engaging and efficient as working from a physical office space.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

“Talent is universal; opportunity is not.” This particular quote has always resonated with me and is something that I am always mindful of. As technology takes a pivotal place on the world stage, we cannot deny that talent is emerging as the most valuable global currency.

As an entrepreneur and leader in AI, I have witnessed first-hand the availability of those eager to learn technology-related skills and apply their intellect in solving mission-critical problems. However, not everyone is fortunate to acquire the skills that they have the aptitude for. My team and I are hoping to change that by building the much-needed pool of AI talent and bringing them to the global AI market.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have breakfast and share an insightful conversation with Elon Musk. As the world knows, he is one of the finest minds of this generation and the most influential innovator of the century. As an entrepreneur myself, I deeply appreciate his passion and dedication to transform his vision into reality.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

The platform where we share the latest and greatest from me and my team is our website. Additionally, I would love to connect with leaders on LinkedIn. I also periodically share my thoughts and insights on Medium and regularly contribute to Forbes Tech Council.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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