At the intersection of the two forces of mission and technology is NASA’s need to embrace automation, algorithms, analytics, and artificial intelligence to transform human capital programs and services. Advances in technology will allow organizations to better organize and distribute work tasks to qualified individuals, replacing or outsourcing others and generally augmenting the existing workforce. As machines continue to perform tasks and replace certain human functions, replacing organizations will be able to more efficiently assess real-time data, assign responses, allocate tasks based on assessment, streamline knowledge driven processes, and enable more objective decision-making. NASA is developing advanced technical capabilities in automation, algorithms, analytics, and artificial intelligence. NASA has established a People Analytics capability to establish core tools, identify data sources, define a data architecture, address data privacy and data governance concerns and develop new data-driven insights to inform decision making.
Drawing upon fields as disparate as computer science, cognitive psychology, philosophy, neurology, and others, technology is a rapidly emerging from the realm of technological research and being applied in government. These changes are fueled by the advancements in automation, algorithms, analytics and artificial intelligence. This technology is distributing and redistributing work tasks to qualified individuals, replacing or outsourcing others, and generally serving to augment the workforce. This reality opens up incredible new possibilities that will inevitably transform the future of work.
Research reveals 76 percent of respondents believe that cognitive technologies will “substantially transform” their companies within the next three years (Deloitte Bersin, 2018). As machines start to think and act more like humans, the promise is that organizations will be able to more quickly and efficiently assess real-time data, assign responses, and allocate tasks based on automated assessment (Centre for Public Impact, 2017).
The application of such technologies will move from simply delivering services more efficiently or informing decision making to ultimately augmenting the role of humans in the workplace. Studies predict that as many as 47 percent of all US jobs may be automated within the next 20 years (Osborne, 2018).
The automation revolution has huge potential to transform NASA, but significant technical, legal, and policy issues exist related to tools and technology. NASA’s ability to adopt new technology is limited and access to data is hampered by systems that are siloed and poorly integrated. NASA must accelerate efforts to modernize the Human Capital IT (HCIT) landscape to address the lack of access to data, tools, and technology and realize the performance advancements promised through AI, automation, and analytics. Further, NASA must prepare it’s workforce to embrace the implementation of new technologies.
Embracing the automation, algorithms, analytics, and artificial intelligence could unleash powerful possibilities for NASA. Machine learning algorithms can be used to spot trends in pattern recognition and avoid past mistakes. Natural language processing can improve onboarding and personnel management. Automation can streamline internal processes, including those related to document classification, discovery, retrieval and content moderation;. Artificial intelligence can inform decision making and be used to improve resume evaluation and performance review. Each of these possibilities are within Agency reach. NASA has established a People Analytics capability to establish core tools, identify data sources, define a data architecture, address data privacy and data governance concerns and develop new data-driven insights to inform decision making.
About the Authors
Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).