Increasing productivity, agility, and job satisfaction, technology is heralded for its ability to transform the workplace into somewhere people want to excel and succeed. It is helping to streamline processes, remove geographical barriers, enhance communication, and improve customer service.  

For that reason, the economic landscape looks set to be in favour of the growth of workplace automation.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

In the workplace specifically, we are seeing the proliferation of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) - otherwise known as ‘software bots’. Software bots have the power to process and extract data, and integrate with other technologies such as document capture. It is already deployed by banks and factories, and recently we’ve seen the application of IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson system.

Some of the most common cases of robotics in the workplace stem from our ability to communicate verbally with our devices, such as booking meetings or checking our schedules.  Many organisations now have ‘chatbots’ integrated into their websites, to recognise customer requests and deal with them accordingly. But the economic landscape is open to more development. We can expect to see Robotic Automation Processes taking over everyday manual human tasks - namely computer-based.

Mundane activities such as clicking and processing can be delegated to trained (automated) algorithms - or software bots, that can take that repetitive workload off of skilled workers.

The cost of the digital worker is almost a third of an offshore worker. So while initial implementation of such sophisticated technology could be costly, it is a cost that amortises over time, saving businesses tens of thousands. RPA is therefore, a future inevitability that we can no longer deny.

What does this mean for the workforce?

Well, most obviously, it means that humans will have less work to do. Or if we look at this from an efficiency perspective - more time to dedicate to other important tasks. Roles will broaden and skills will grow, as employees have the capacity to dedicate their time to learning new skills and focusing on the core competencies of their organisation.

Although there is a rise in cognitive technologies, widening the scope for the types of workload robots will be capable of managing in the future. So, perhaps John Maynard’s argument that the increase in automation could see a shorter working week of around 15 hours could become a truism.  

If we consider how much time could be saved from implementing RPA, it is likely to impact profitability of enterprises as well as the economic landscape.  

Can we really trust robots?

The perceived threat of ‘robots’ is irrefutable. No matter how much we try and talk them up, there’s uncanny anxiety around robots taking over our jobs, our buildings, and ultimately, us.

And yes, machine learning is becoming more sophisticated by the day. Robots are now capable of machine learning, and deciphering meaning and context in unstructured information. Something that, 50 years ago, was only been conceivable after watching an episode of Dr. Who.

This fear associated with robotic automation is arguably unfounded. While there has been media coverage on robots communicating with each other, they’re designed, engineered and maintained by humans. And for that reason, they are created with purpose: to make our lives and jobs more productive, less mundane, and less laborious. And by taking over such tasks, it is hoped that humans will ultimately thrive is more problem-based, complex, and challenging roles.

Evidence proves that this anxiety associated with robotics stems from unfamiliarity. And the more people use automation technologies, the more they trust them. Similarly, a study has proven that the more freedom users are given to modify algorithms, the more satisfied they feel with its decisions. Could this perhaps suggest that involving users in the process of initial automation, and giving them more freedom and awareness around the technology could improve their relationship?

It is something we will discover in time.

The more we exposed to robotics and their automated algorithms, perhaps the less surprised we will become with their capabilities. Are they set to become an integral part of the foundation of our everyday existence?

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Topics: Culture, Future Technology, Workplace Technologists

Rob Evans

Written by Rob Evans