Pepper the automated receptionist, Brainlabs
Mass job losses and a fundamental shift in employment have been forecast by some, as automation changes how businesses operate. Every business will be touched by this technology no matter their size. In the near future, will some of us have robotic colleagues?
It’s 2035. Booting my iMac, after checking email and my favourite newsfeeds, I start iDavid, my digital assistant, I tasked yesterday with some research I need for a feature I’m doing next month for my Forbes channel.
My digital assistant uses advanced machine learning to understand the kind of information I’m looking for. The assistant is also intelligent enough to suggest people and organizations I should speak to and, has also searched databases of academic research for related innovations.
How automation might impact work and workers remains to be seen. What is certain is automation will change how businesses are operated and, how the human capital they contain will be partnered with automated systems. All business could not function without a range of technologies.
Automation is coming to all businesses.
How these tools are implemented is often contentious. In an office environment, no one expects to be seated next to an android, but the repetitive, mundane tasks many workers face each day, will be automated.
The job security anxiety that has received much press coverage with headline shouting about mass unemployment is largely hyperbole and, a reaction to technologies that are not yet fully understood. How AI will impact workers remains to be seen. But specific occupation will undoubtedly see more automation in the workplace. Information-based jobs will be augmented, with intelligent systems using machine learning to deliver tools and support to human workers.
KPMG’s Future Ready Finance Survey, for instance, finds 11-20% of the finance workforce to be significantly impacted by automation in the next two years. Peter Luscombe, UK Head of Finance Transformation at KPMG UK, says: “Finance functions are, by nature, traditionally reflective and analytical. However, while automation has not had an impact at scale yet, finance teams that are not demonstrating strategic behaviours may find themselves questioning their value in an automated world.”
IPsoft’s cognitive AI agent, Amelia.
Is your business’s next employee going to be an AI? IPsoft thinks so, as they have recently launched what they call the first marketplace for digital workers.
An enterprise can hire digital employees pre-trained as IT service desk engineers who can handle a wide range of support issues both independently and in collaboration with human co-workers, delivering rapid deployment and immediate business value, IPsoft claim. The marketplace will soon offer digital employees for administration and HR as well as other industry-specific roles.
This defines a new category of enterprise AI-powered by Amelia, IPsoft’s cognitive AI agent. Unlike solutions underpinned solely by chatbots or robotic process automation (RPA), Amelia’s cognitive intelligence allows her to interact naturally with humans and continuously learn from every interaction, all while integrating and communicating with back-end systems.
“SMBs are increasingly investing in more sophisticated and intelligent solutions. Digital customer service agents, for example, leverage artificial intelligence, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and neural network algorithms to deliver more human-like experience that is more satisfying to users and to execute tasks independently, so they can resolve customer queries. This is truly helping small firms punch above their weight for customer experience.”
If the sophistication of AI-based entities increases to the point where businesses – even micro-enterprises – can buy the AI assistant they need off-the-shelf, then true democratization of these technologies could take place. Clearly, how you implement a digital assistant will be unique to each business. But these assistants are coming. Decades ago, digital assistants were attempted but failed as their underlying technology wasn’t mature enough. Today, we are entering a new era of AI-enhanced services and workers.
Your plastic friend or foe?
Douglas Adams wrote that a robot is ‘your plastic friend who’s fun to be with.’ Humans and robots working together is already a reality. Cobots work in close proximity to their human colleagues across many factories.
According to OGL Computer some analyst firms have predicted that UK GDP will be up to 10% higher by 2030 as a result of AI – the equivalent of an additional £232 billion – making it one of the most significant commercial opportunities in today’s fast-changing economy. While some SMEs are still not sure about potential use cases of AI for them, 39% of SMEs are planning to adopt the technology, with many innovative SMEs significantly cutting costs and delivering improved customer experience with AI-powered applications.
“When I first established my business, I had one motto: ‘anything that can be automated, should be’,” explained Daniel Gilbert, CEO, Brainlabs. “Businesses need to shape their strategic decisions around automation: what their business model is, what their infrastructure looks like, who they hire, and how they train employees. Research shows that the survival rate of companies is dropping – adaptability and automation is necessary to survive.”
Partnership of human and robot. AI (Artificial Intelligence).
“Automation will be of huge competitive benefit to small businesses, who may not be able to hire large teams. Instead, they will be able to automate a lot of their customer relationship management, inventory management, and forecasting. Automation will enhance their strengths: delivering personalized messaging and unique experiences for their clients supported by the booming SaaS industry.”
Daniel continued: “Automation is not stealing jobs: people are still very much needed to work alongside machine-learning entities, especially for the next few years. The current focus should be on automation-enabled human expertise. I don’t see these kinds of entities being considered as ‘employees’ anytime soon!”
Protecting and enhancing our wellbeing at work has never been more critical. As work and business moves at light speed, any help and support are always welcome. Indeed, Dean McGlone, Director, V1 said: “Our own research shows that 40% of workers would be happy for any parts of their job to be automated. What’s more, the same report from Advanced shows that 77% would be happy to work alongside robotic technology if it meant fewer manual processes. So, the appetite is clearly there. We are heading for an era of the cobot in which the most potent combination of increasing productivity is people and technology.”
Changing is coming. What this change looks like and, who it will impact upon will be manifold. Shivvy Jervis, Futurist explained: “Even now, AI can write blog articles, draft contracts, paint pictures, and fulfil a variety of other tasks we currently hire humans for. However, this is not to say that humans in these positions will fall out of use.
Shivvy Jervis, Futurist.
Deloitte Digital Agenda.
“Machines are good at what they do, but currently lack human creativity or flair, or the ability to understand vague instructions. This gives freelancers and micro-businesses a huge advantage. Freelancers and micro- businesses will be competing against AI-based services for the very low level, time-intensive tasks they are currently used for. However, in the future, we will still rely on humans for the more complex tasks.”
In 2025, small business owners will be able to access expertise and assistance that they currently cannot afford. Bots that can draft simple contracts, provide basic legal advice (such as tax or employment law), handle payroll, and deal with customer aftercare will enable more people than ever to step into the world of small business and will make moonlighting a very real option for people with ‘day jobs.
And Dr Will Venters is Assistant Professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics Department of Management also points out: “A bot or Machine-Learning based entity is not like an employee. But, for this very reason, they need careful managing by human employees.
Dr Will Venters, Assistant Professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics … [+]
London School of Economics
“Bots won’t question their work; they hold no ethical compass; they cannot easily explain how they arrived at a decision, and they cannot understand the biases they might be applying. Further, they work so quickly that the problems they cause can rapidly scale out of control. For this reason, managing bots requires frequent checks to ensure they are working in the company’s best interest and delivering a clear ROI.”
So, would you work with a robot? I guess the answer is it all depends. What kind of business you have or work within and, your current experiences of the work you do, will ultimately drive your positive or negative response to automation.
It’s early days for AI to show us what it can achieve. Context is king here, as businesses need to carefully assess what automation could deliver and, what it is still woefully inadequate for.
Certainly, repetitive tasks that require little human oversight will be given to AI-powered systems. This frees the human workforce to concentrate on the creative and strategic development of their businesses.