The world is obviously going through some changeable times. The United Kingdom is about to ride through the (many would argue) uncertain period of post-Brexit ‘independence’ and global geopolitical swings continue to have an impact upon international trade and investment.
The technology industry thinks it can help, well, when doesn’t it? In particular, the tech business is keen to extol the virtues of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as key tools to help manage the things that humans shouldn’t be troubling themselves with.
The question we need to ask is: can automation technologies really change lives when such massive socio-economic change is happening and at what point should we ‘stop’ applying algorithmic intelligence?
VP and digital worker evangelist at software ‘bot’ (short for RPA robot) development company Automation Anywhere is James Dening. Arguing that by 2021, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will be a $2.9 billion industry, Dening says that 85% of the market is still untapped.
“According to research conducted by Goldsmiths University, businesses augmented by automation achieved 31% higher financial performance and 30% greater business performance than their non-augmented counterparts. But for augmentation to yield the maximum return on investment (ROI), businesses must take a holistic approach – not one that simply focuses on short-term gains to the bottom line,” said Dening.
So there are caveats here and Automation Anywhere’s Dening agrees that AI initiatives should not be thought of as just a technology investment. To make them work in practical pragmatic real world ways for real human beings, organizations need to understand how people, processes, technology and digital workers all come together. In order to do that, we have to look at the end-to-end customer journeys, that state of current processes in play… and human behavior. Only when we do that are we able to create a new ‘work process’, reformulated and optimized for both human and digital workers.
Stop - Don’t Automate Me!
For want of a real world example, imagine if a user booked a flight and received an automated upgrade because the airline booking system recognized the individual’s mileage membership status. But, what if that person had friends on the flight who were sat back in coach? What if that person could see the seat allocation and wanted to try their luck at bagging a row-of-four middle section to make themselves a ‘seat bed’? A user’s choice might be overridden because the software system works on the basis of programmed logic, but we humans don’t always think and behave logically do we?
Software automation and database algorithmic power can be more powerful than user choice; so as we start to apply these increasing layers of intelligence into our lives we must also think about the nuances of human behavior that machines won’t initially be able to understand. Okay, this is hardly an answer to geopolitical unrest… but does illustrate how careful we need to be when adding automation to our world.
Automation Anywhere’s Dening likes to talk about the perhaps more finessed use of digital augmentation, where repetitive and low-value tasks are shifted onto automated systems to free humans to think creatively and strategically. This will be key if the machines of the future will be able to understand our personality nuances and behavioral idiosyncrasies.
“New jobs are likely to involve very different skills, and this will require a commitment from organisations to provide access to training and development, to prepare the workforce. In the UK, companies are reporting that highly skilled AI professionals are hard to find and expensive to hire, driving up the cost of adoption and slowing technological advancement. Organisations that make a conscious decision to use automation in a way that enhances current employees’ skills and complements their working style may be able to mitigate some of these obstacles, but ultimately business need to move faster now on upskilling and reskilling their workforce for the augmented future,” said Dening.
Automation Anywhere advises on what it calls the ‘targeted use of automation technology’ and says that its research has pointed to a heightened ability of augmented companies to operate ‘bimodally’ so that they can prioritize both present and future, tactical and strategic, goals.
The World Economic Forum believes that new technology will create twice as many job opportunities as are lost. Simultaneously, it says, there will be growth in so-called ‘low automatability’ sectors such as human health, social work and education, as these jobs require social skills, empathy and creativity.
Finding the intersection point between the worlds of digital intelligence and human empathy is surely the biggest challenge on the automated road ahead.