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Here come the humans

Actuaries will be among those affected by new technology. But in the future, it will not be a question of machines or humans; rather, there will be a partnership between humans and technology.

By Brian Fomby, Relationship Manager, Life Technology Solutions, Milliman.

One day the world will be run by machines and there will be little meaningful work left for humans to do.

It’s a scenario that’s been used by writers of fiction since the start of the 19th century, but reality has not played out that way. Fast forward to the year 2018 and many of us are arguably working more hours and longer weeks than has been the case during the last several decades.

Of course, robotics and automation have eliminated jobs. But these developments have also required us to adapt and move on to more meaningful work—or, at a minimum, different work.

It’s happened with manual labor and now change is encroaching on high-paid knowledge workers. The actuarial profession is certain to be among those affected by new technology, especially automation and cognitive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

In their book Only Humans Need Apply, Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby list several reasons that the role of knowledge workers is set to change in response to cognitive technologies. Here are some that could be relevant to the actuarial profession:

  • There are automated systems available today to do some of your core tasks
  • Your job involves little physical contact or manipulation of things
  • Your job involves answering data-dependent questions
  • Your job involves doing quantitative analysis
  • Consistency of performance is critical in your job
  • Your job involves the creation of data-based narratives

We should not see this simply as a threat to our jobs, however. For actuaries, it will mean allowing machines to do routine data manipulation and even some analysis, freeing them to spend more time leveraging their human intuition and judgment into higher-order analysis and fresh ideas.

After all, actuaries are highly paid specialists who are the brains of the organization. They should be bringing forward new ideas, not babysitting programs and moving data around. All of this costly, time-consuming work should be part of an end-to-end automated process.

In this way, actuaries can spend less time producing the numbers and more time telling the story around the numbers. We should keep asking ourselves, how can the actuarial profession use rapidly evolving technology to raise the bar for actuarial work?

The actuary of the future

Technology can be thought of as an enabler that will help actuaries focus on the enduring abilities that set them apart from machines in important ways. But actuaries may need to change. For example, the actuary of the future will need strong powers of judgment. Certainly actuaries today are required to exercise judgment as well, but this skill will be needed more widely in an increasingly automated and machine-driven world, where cases of insufficient data will require actuaries who can comprehend the bigger picture and solve problems in more subjective ways than machines. We cannot always codify intuition.

We are going to need actuaries who understand the technology and have the engineering intelligence to correct the mistakes and explain the limitations of the technology.

The actuary of the future will have entrepreneurial drive coupled with communication skills and emotional intelligence.

Humans are obsessed with IQ but we’re learning that there are other types of intelligence besides logical reasoning. People with empathy and emotional intelligence often make the best and most influential leaders. High emotional intelligence will be a critical attribute for the actuary of the future.

In a future world it’s not going to be a question of machines or humans: there will be a partnership between humans and technology. The key is to identify where humans add value; and if technology can do something better, then let it. We humans can focus on what we do best.

Automation and cognitive technology will eliminate a lot of routine work and the industry has to think about what that means for new talent and how trainees will develop their skills. It’s just one example of how companies need to think about how they will adapt to the changes being driven by new technology.

Successful companies are defined by their abilities to adapt: it is what differentiates businesses. But companies should be optimistic about the value that technology will bring to the actuarial profession. Automation and cognitive technology will enhance the role played by actuaries—uniquely human actuaries—and not diminish it.


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