The Augmented Workforce: how one company is making the connection between AI and the human workforce

By combining human-centric machine learning and intelligent context generation, contextere is developing an intelligent personal agent capable of delivering actionable insights at the point of service. Its industrial software weaves together the power of AI and IoT data to give blue collar workers the right information, at the right time, on the right device. Here, Gabe Batstone, contextere CEO shares a vision of the future that empowers workers through automation.

The last tactical mile: why we started

In recent years, industrial enterprises have seen a rise in emerging technologies and digital tools that offer considerable improvements in the workplace. Yet, despite these advancements, the blue-collar workforce faces many challenges:

It’s clear that modernizing in this context is an uphill battle for the blue-collar workforce. And it’s because these jobs — where warm hands touch cold steel —are relatively the same as they were 20 years ago that the industry was ready for a leap forward.

The future of work: the Iron Man vs. Skynet metaphor

In addressing these issues, Hollywood offers us two visions of the future of blue-collar work:

  • Skynet. Rise of the robots and automation — which promises increased productivity and convenience, but not without the sobering realities of a fully automated world.
  • Iron Man. Augmenting the industrial worker by equipping them with the right information at the right time on the right device, harnessing the benefits of computing and combining it with the innate human strengths of curiosity, creativity and empathy.

As an Industrial Artificial Intelligence (AI) company focused on human performance, we’re partial to the latter. By combining human ingenuity with AI, we’ll be able to improve productivity and safety, and reduce equipment downtime. Technological innovation and job creation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the strategy to address both the opportunities and threats of a globalized, connected world should be to combine AI and humans. In other words, by putting AI into the hands of humans, we’re not only empowering the men and women of the industrial workforce to gain skills and work more safely and productively — we’re also fueling a sustainable economy.

At contextere, we believe that this vision can come to fruition by following four guidelines. First, it’s imperative that big data become small and consumable to provide actionable insight. Second, in the corporate world, we are often overly consumed with dashboards and data science, but in the blue-collar world what’s next is what matters and this is what we should focus on. Third, keeping abreast of the worker’s context through the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors is vital to capturing actionable data since data expires. Lastly, in our view, skilled is a state of mind, and all humans are skilled. It’s our job to provide the blue-collar workforce with the technology and information they need to execute their tasks.

Technological innovation and job creation are not mutually exclusive.

Imagine a workplace where as you approached an object, intelligent insights about how to interact with that object were presented to you before you even asked. Similarly, imagine starting a new job knowing that you had the smartest and most experienced co-worker in the entire company at your service 24/7 — right in your pocket. To us, this is the ‘Iron Man’ future. By empowering humans with these tools, it will be possible to augment the industrial workforce, rather than replace it with automation.

Going beyond technology

As we consider the future of work, we must go beyond technology to engage the stakeholders that are contributing to the barriers mentioned above, recognize the human impact, and analyse how our society can support progression.

We need new social constructs that will treat humans as capital and support the economy of tomorrow. With the World Economic Forum warning that “65% of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will fail to prepare them, exacerbating skills gaps and unemployment in the future workforce,” it’s clear that we need to develop a plan for training and education. We need to reform our education systems to teach students the skills they will need for the jobs of the future, including more technical training as well as a more agile approach to lifelong learning in a rapidly changing world. And of course, we should focus on the social aspects of change and embrace the facets of humanity that elevate us above the machine, such as our innate creativity, empathy and curiosity.

At contextere, we don't see a future driven by massive job losses due to automation. Instead, we see a future that creates many job opportunities through augmentation. The assumption that machines can do blue-collar work undervalues the contribution of employees who make minute-to-minute decisions that impact performance, execution and, ultimately, cost. Having said that, as we continue to integrate new technologies like AI into the workplace, there will inevitably be some displacement that cannot be mitigated. But, if we sensibly manage it through a combination of education, training and technology, the transition can be accomplished without unnecessary harm.

Every human is skilled. Human-centric technology solutions can ensure employees have the new skills they need for the fourth Industrial Revolution. It is through this careful infusion of AI, human ingenuity and societal change that we will elevate the blue-collar workforce into the 21st century. It is far easier to empower employees to unleash their creativity, curiosity and empathy, than it is to teach computers how to be human. We should not fear dystopia, nor should we expect utopia. Instead, we should simply manage the fourth Industrial Revolution, as somewhere a brilliant child is already setting in motion the fifth.

It is far easier to empower employees to unleash their creativity, curiosity and empathy, than it is to teach computers how to be human.


With contextere, Global 2000 companies and their employees capture value through increased productivity and safety while reducing equipment downtime. contextere’s software has application across a wide range of industry sectors including, aerospace & defense, oil & gas, power & utility, and transportation.

Learn more about contextere here:
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Gabe Batstone, Co-founder & CEO, contextere

Gabe Batstone

Co-founder & CEO, contextere

Gabe Batstone is the co-founder & Chief Executive Officer of contextere. He brings 20 years of experience in software development across multiple industries around the globe, including initiatives in the digital oilfield, intelligent vehicles, virtual reality, augmented reality and big data. Gabe holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts, specializing in Geographic Information Systems, from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Baltimore.

Gabe serves on the Board of Directors for the Canadian American Business Council (CABC) and co-chairs its Digital Task Force creating a digital framework for NAFTA. Gabe also founded Teagan’s Voice, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting children’s rights following the murder of his 8-year-old daughter in 2014.


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