Automated workforces: are they really the future?

Automated workforceThere are few industries that don’t use an automated/mechanical solution at some point in their production processes. Some sectors invest more heavily in their machinery and artificial intelligence than others.

As technology continues to run away with us, there’s an underlying fear shared by a portion of the UK workforce that their job may ultimately be replaced by robots. After all, the internet has changed the face of retail, self-service machines are commonplace in supermarkets and petrol stations, and self-driving cars are (literally) just around the corner – which could put paid to taxi, bus and train drivers during our lifetimes.

But how likely is it that all jobs will eventually be replaced by the humble microchip?

Some experts believe ‘most’ jobs will be automated within 30 years, which is a startling prediction. They say that robots outperform humans now and will continue to do so.

Amazon’s Alexa machine attempts to mimic human conversation, after the company fed 30,000 romance novels into its programming so that it could learn the nuances and patterns of speech. Going one step further, a university in Singapore has created a robotic receptionist, named Nadine. Looking very much like a human, the robot can greet visitors, smile and make eye contact, and shake their hands – ‘she’ can even remember returning guests and create spontaneous conversations based on their previous visits.

Automating/improving a process is one thing, but can we improve on a mere human in the workplace?

Even the creator of Nadine doesn’t think an all-robot workforce is a good thing. Not least because he believes that work is good for humans, and that we’d get bored of a leisure-only lifestyle. And when you consider that every single human being walking this earth is wholly unique – with different thoughts, tastes, preferences, passions, faults, beliefs, capabilities, ideas and skills – how can a robot even try to emulate that?

For example, she may be able to go through the reception process, but can Nadine really make you feel welcome? We know she can say the right words, recognise you, greet you and make physical contact, but is that enough? Would we enjoy such impersonal interactions with robot after robot as we travel through our day – especially if we’d have so much more time at our leisure? Can something held together by nuts and bolts evoke reactions and emotions within us? Whilst a tangible product can be replicated within days, can we be replaced as a race?

Humans are social creatures. Mammals that feel love for others of our species (even though we can’t see it or touch it, we know when it’s there). Robots will never be able to feel.

And what about innovation? Where will the next big idea come from? Who will create sonnets, blockbusters, bestsellers and works of art? Whilst robots could no doubt repeat our nation’s artistic gems, and possibly produce works of art based on what they know, they will never be able to create what they don’t know, what their programming doesn’t recognise.

Interacting with our tribe is a basic human need. Their acceptance and affiliation are things we strive for. When an organisation or brand is praised in 2018, it’s usually the consumer’s experience that’s the basis for their review. The product or service can be copied, but the experience you offer as a business is down to your people, not your bots. That’s what distinguishes a good brand from a not-so-good one. How can humans fulfil their instinctive need for acceptance from a pile of silicone?

Investing in your people is as important – if not much, much more so – than investing in your tech. Yes, the latter can make productivity and the bottom line look good on paper, but that’s behind the scenes and not what you’re selling out front. Invest in a workforce that can anticipate issues and solve them before they occur, that can react instantly to the behavioural cues and body language of consumers, that can think on its feet and solve problems with innovation – this is not Nadine.

The workplace skills companies would have invested in thirty years ago would have no doubt been more practical in nature than what we try and instil today; these are the roles/tasks that AI now covers. The next generation needs training in softer skills, Emotional Intelligence, recognising behavioural traits and how to apply the appropriate response – the things a microchip can’t learn. This is what companies need to do if they really want to stay ahead of the technological revolution.

Our Jigsaw Discovery Tool is the key to such self-learning. It not only gives individuals in-depth insight into their own traits, behaviours, personality type, etc., it will also highlight the same in others, so that – unlike Nadine, the automaton – you can adapt your approach to get the best from yourself and those around you. For any organisation – that will only have the strength of their customer relationships and customer service as the elements that set them apart from their competitors – this is the type of thing you can’t program.

Human beings are, by their very nature, unpredictable. Whilst our tool is the easiest, most effective way of trying to understand why people do, say and act how they do, there will always be a scenario, a problem . . . an issue that needs a huge degree of knowledge about humans to rectify satisfactorily. The better-equipped an employee is, relating to their fellow humans, the better service they can deliver to them.Better equipped to innovate. To ‘think outside the box’. Not to rely on what an algorithm tells them!

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