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Embracing your new ‘robot’ co-workers

05 Apr 18

Article by Luke McCormack, regional vice president, Asia Pacific, Pegasystems.

We all dreamt of robots as kids.

Now, we’re scared they’ll take our jobs. Scaremongering news stories have led many to believe the rising use of AI in businesses will result in widespread job losses and a dramatic shift to the workplace as we know it.

Realistically, the truth is never this simple. There’s another side of the story to tell.

In many cases, the arrival of intelligent machines will have a positive impact on businesses, their overall performance and employees too.

So what do we mean by ‘intelligent machines’?

Rather than humanoid-like robots clanking around in the office, the reality of intelligent machines includes a number of different technologies, from artificial intelligence (AI) to machine learning and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

All these terms refer to elements of technology that is finding an increased role within many businesses to help analyse, integrate and automate processes that are otherwise time-consuming or inefficient for a human to do.

This does not mean that such machines will ever completely replace humans. In some roles involving manual data inputting, automation has a role to play in taking on otherwise dull, repetitive tasks. Other jobs, such as customer-facing roles, require a degree of emotional intelligence that can only be provided by a human.

Although machines can help anticipate customer’s needs and provide data it feels is relevant to them, humans are also able to rely on more intangible factors such as tone of voice, body language or other cultural aspects machines have limited capability to discern.

A machine providing timely, relevant customer data and a human working alongside it to exercising judgement can be a potent combination.

It’s simply not an ‘either/or’ situation when it comes to machines and humans – both can work together to augment each other to add significant value.

The way we define our workforce is about to change; a recent study by Pega found 69% of respondents expect the term ‘workforce’ to eventually encapsulate both human employees and intelligent machines.

The future is expected to be made of machines working alongside machines, not replacing them.

What’s largely misunderstood is that the increased use of machines could also have many other benefits for the way human workers operate in the workplace.

It’s expected that the automation of mundane tasks by smart machines will eliminate worker’s mundane tasks, allowing them to learn new skills and apply themselves in different, more rewarding areas.

While 70% of senior executives expect AI to principally replace workers in administrative roles within the next 20 years, 69% said that they expected these workers to be diverted into other areas of the business – instead of losing their jobs – where they could perform more satisfying, varied roles.

Meanwhile, 64% of respondents said that AI will help staff to achieve greater autonomy by enabling them to work with technology to find solutions they would previously have referred up the chain of command.

Do businesses themselves feel that all the doom and gloom around the increased use of intelligent machines is an accurate representation of the shape of things to come?

Interestingly, the same study answers this question in finding that the vast majority - 88% - of humans are comfortable with the prospect of working alongside smart machines.

While there may be apprehensions, attitudes are fairly open towards these new robot coworkers.

So, what does all this tell us? We should ignore the hype and negativity that surrounds the introduction of intelligent machines into the workplace and instead embrace the benefits they can bring not only on an operational, but also on an individual basis.

The way we work has changed many times before, from the rise of industrialisation to the digital era, each bringing different benefits and capabilities.

The growth of intelligent machines is no different.