The Reality of Robots: Will They Rule the Workforce?

A look at the future balance between humans and robotics in the workforce.

Tim Sheedy, Forrester

Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the future of robotics, and businesses are starting to introduce them into their processes. As a result of this, many fear that their jobs are in danger of being replaced by robots.

Principal Analyst of Forrester, Tim Sheedy, explored the driving force and increased integration behind Robotics Process Automation (RPA):

“RPA is a simple solution to save a lot of money, and time, and cut costs out of the business to take humans out of the process,” he said.

Many think the application of automation and AI is a recent development, however, the reality is that organisations are constantly adapting to the newest technology and creating efficiency wherever possible.

Due to advances in technology, the manufacturing and agriculture industries have significantly decreased from around 50% in the 1960s to today’s 10%.

Michael Hicks, Professor at the Centre for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Indiana, referred to a similar situation that has been occurring in the US since the 1970s.

Hicks stated: “95% of job losses were due to productivity improvements, including automation and computer technology, rather than trade.”

Although, while automation previously improved the efficiency of processes like manufacturing in ground staff, AI has also worked its way into a corporate setting and application.

Its biggest success so far can be seen in Google’s AlphaGo victory against a professional in the board game ‘Go.’ The number of possible moves are practically endless, making it difficult for AI to calculate the best option.

However, the victory in the board game was key in illustrating the evolution and progression of AI and signified its ability to solve both menial and complex tasks.

With the increasing applicability of this technology, robotics is progressively replacing employees cross-industry, and the World Economic Forum predicts it will continue, with 5.1 million jobs projected to be lost by 2022 in the top 15 leading economies.

2017 could be the year of immense change with the introduction of automation in companies for more than just manufacturing processes.

One example of this is Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Life. They recently announced they will be introducing automation and AI to calculate payouts for clients, resulting in the unemployment of 34 of their employees.

“In the future, adaptability is key, and people are more adaptable.”- Reid Hoffman

The benefits of automation are clear, as they reveal that the introduction of machines into the workforce by the end of January will cause a 30% increase in productivity.

However, this does not necessarily negate the use of human employees; humans have some advantages that robots lack.

Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn, talked about these benefits in 2014, arguing that people are more flexible and adaptable than their robotic counterparts.

“In the future, adaptability is key, and people are more adaptable. So when they set up the machine line and it’s all machines, there is a huge amount of retooling to shift from line one to line two, whereas people are much easier to shift.”

Automation could potentially open up more time for people to pursue creative and entrepreneurial opportunities, as opposed to working on processes that can be easily replicated.

Although automation and AI are the future of robotics, they will not be replacing all jobs. Humans continue to play an important role in every company, and not all processes can be replaced by automation.