Robots have been an increasingly prevalent feature of the media’s business coverage in recent years. In December 2016, Bank of England governor Mark Carney claimed that around 15 million jobs were under threat from robotic substitutes.
Among those industries set for substantial android influence, according to Carney, were accountancy, real estate, commercial piloting, economics and even acting. 2017 saw the induction of a new Robots exhibition at London’s Science Museum, charting the progress of android mechanics over the last century. (Well worth a visit, incidentally.) It suggested that the common use of robotics in business is a very real and imminent prospect.
The Iron-Clad Truth
Ropes for tendons; motors for muscles; skin of metal and plastic. Robots have developed most rapidly, and successfully, where they have been built to most closely replicate biological human design. “Rosa”, pictured above, embodies that research trend – compounded to great effect as the dawn of the 21st century approached. By the 2000s, incredible advances were afoot – quite literally, perhaps, after the first independently walking humanoid robot was created in 1996.
The Science Museum’s exhibition is testament to those. The mechanics of today are able to simulate speech, breath, physical reactions and facial expressions – and in the latter case, recognise and mirror the expression of humans. Thus far, these have been quietly employed in areas such as healthcare and construction. Yet a far more wide-ranging future awaits robotics in business.
Where Will Robots Flourish?
To understand the potential impact of robots, one must appreciate where their appeal stems from.
Robots, once purchased and incorporated into a company’s business plan, have the potential to cut company expenses and produce a greater output. That’s how business owners see the situation – or will soon see it, at any rate. They can process information faster, lift heavier loads, and now interact with humans accordingly. Moreover, they can sense the presence of humans, and can therefore operate fully without injuring them.
They will not quite think the same as humans. Yet they will be able to complete many of the same jobs. It will be low-skilled jobs that robots undertake first, repopulating farms, warehouses, pharmacies, admin offices and anywhere that needs cleaning. The progress of artificial intelligence, however, which informs robots’ interactions with the world around them, suggests limitless potential for what jobs they could do.
How Certain Is All This?
It is true that technological revolutions are often promised by the experts, only to see them fall away. Perhaps scepticism is natural when we talk about such change. However, it is the advances in cloud computing, and the use of big data, that make the “business robot” scenario compelling. Computing power is suddenly faster and cheaper; large data blocks may be analysed at lightning speed.
Contemporary robots can process complex information many times faster than the human brain. To give science its due, this has long been the case. The key to robotics was whether a robot could physically act accordingly on that information. This is where the cloud comes in, allowing robots to continue activity while fully mobile, without a wired connection. Moreover, the cloud is as ever a platform for digital innovation: the place where cutting-edge software is built. Robotic science is no different – and the potential is thus seemingly limitless. There is no way of projecting the precise impact on business at this time. However, it will be significant, and it will grow continuously.
Despite this, there is significant disagreement over how accurate the current “robots will take all our jobs” narrative is. Many sources, including the Science Museum’s Robots exhibition and a January 2017 report from the McKinsey Global Institute, concur that the result will ultimately see, in many cases, humans working alongside robots. Do not doubt, however, that the need to possess skills deemed professionally valuable grows more pressing in the wake of robotic innovation. Thanks to innovation in the cloud, robotics in business as an everyday concept draws ever closer.
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Written by Oliver Kiddell
Oliver Kiddell, Author at Viastak Technologists.