How AI will transform the workplace
AI refers to computer systems that can sense their environment, think, learn and then take action as a result. This ability to respond to the environment stands artificial intelligence apart from the automation of routine tasks. Machine learning algorithms and chatbots are examples of AI that are already used by businesses today.
Humans working alongside robots isn’t a new idea. It’s been part of manufacturing, for example, for many years. However, as the AI becomes more advanced, the number of tasks which robots will be able to complete will increase. This will change the relationship between humans and robots.
Robots today and tomorrow
Often when we see robots on car production lines, it’s in a fixed place and carrying out a single task. The emerging vision, however, features smaller, lighter, nimbler robots. They’ll be able to move around, learn and generate real-time data that will enable them to make basic decisions about their tasks and motions in milliseconds.
Also, these robots are designed to safely share the workspace with humans, aiding in and collaborating on a variety of tasks, from inserting shock absorbers, to packaging medical supplies.
Studies have shown that productivity is at its highest when robots and humans are working together, rather than either working on their own. But what challenges does coworking bring? What are the benefits and which industries will benefit the most?
One of the main challenges of a hybrid working environment is the potential job losses. In a study by the consultancy firm Oxford Economics, the rapidly growing use of robots is expected to have a profound impact on jobs across the world, resulting in up to 20 million manufacturing job losses by 2030.
The global analysis of 29 advanced economies found that each new industrial robot eliminated as many as 1.6 manufacturing jobs on average.
Another challenge is that much of the technology is untested. Take the driverless car, for example. A woman in Arizona lost her life when she was struck by a driverless car in 2017. Although there was someone inside the car, they weren’t able to react to the situation and prevent it.
If humans can’t trust the robots and technology they’re working alongside, there will be trouble ahead. The possibilities may seem endless, but if robots don’t make the world around us safer, it’s going to be a difficult sell.
They’re not like us
Can humans work well in collaboration with something which they don’t associate with? Some researchers believe that we’ll need to humanise robots more, perhaps even let them make mistakes, as humans do. However, if this were to happen, it would erase one of the main advantages that robots have over humans, in that they don’t make as many (if any) mistakes.
Built with embedded cameras, lasers and sensors, as well as limited cognition and self-programming capabilities, many robots can take in ambient data — temperature, humidity, speed of the line, etc — and make decisions about their next course of action in a millisecond or less.
Robots can be put to work in dangerous environments, such as natural disasters, the front line and on construction sites.
In extremely busy periods, a robot can work 24 hours a day, without becoming fatigued or stressed. This would stop the staff being overworked and would protect peoples’ wellbeing at work.
Far from taking jobs away, robots can actually create jobs. The more that robots are used in the workplace the greater need we’ll have for people skilled in engineering and technology.
To get to the optimum performance, it will take time and there will need to be an investment from companies to reap the full benefits of robotics.
Which industries will benefit the most from robotics?
The healthcare sector is already using AI to find links to disease, diagnosis and treatment. And it seems it’s an industry which can benefit even further. The BBC reported that machine learning is able to spot the signs of heart disease in the scans of patients more accurately than doctors alone.
Completely driverless cars may still be a way off, but robotics will have a huge impact on the automotive industry. Robots co-working with people will make production more efficient and the end product will include more technology which will make our driving experience safer and easier.
E-commerce is making good use of robotics, especially within customer care. Many websites now have chatbots, available to us if we have any questions about our purchase. AI also enables retailers to manage and interpret customer data. They can then push products based on a customer’s previous sales, which is a great way to increase your revenue.
And the huge warehouses which pick our purchases for us have also benefited from robotics. Having robots which can learn a number of routes to fetch certain products is making online shopping even quicker.
Making it work
For humans and robots to really work in harmony, businesses must consult with their workforce. According to the commission on workers and technology, run by the Fabian Society and the Community trade union, almost six in 10 employees across Britain in a poll said their employers didn’t give them a say on the use of new technologies.
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