Despite robotic automation being a growing trend, there’s still controversy surrounding the practice. While businesses continue to praise the benefits that a “blended workforce” delivers, employees are wondering how soon they will be replaced by robots. But how exactly do humans and robots coexist today? And is there any reason to sound the alarm of a “robotic apocalypse”?
In this post, we’re going to investigate some of the most common positive and negative aspects of human-robot experiences to find the answers.
Interesting fact: “Robot” derives from the Slavic word “robota”, meaning ”labor”, “servitude”. The term was first used to name a humanoid in a 1920 sci-fi play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) written by the Czechoslovakian writer Karel Čapek.
Artificial intelligence: great expectations
Ever since the first mentions of artificial intelligence in Alan Turing’s “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950), people have had high hopes for the positive transformations it would bring. According to a survey by PwC, 63% of respondents believe that AI will provide solutions to the most pressing issues of today. In the meantime, 46% of respondents are convinced that AI will replace the human workforce.
Consumers believe that AI will help cope with common modern problems, such as:
The blended workforce transformation
In 2016, as most companies had been moving towards a “gig economy”, Forbes’ Dan Schwabel named the “blended workforce” one of the workplace’s most dominating trends. About 93% of businesses would team up freelance workers with employees to work on projects collaboratively. Hiring on-demand workers to solve problems fast while cutting the costs associated with permanent employees would become a popular option.
In 2018, the MIT Technology Review analyzed 18 reports on the effects of automation and technology on labor which resulted in a series of divergent predictions. While some reports forecasted a one billion increase in jobs worldwide by 2030, others insisted on a loss of two billion jobs! A McKinsey 2017 report suggested 400 to 800 million jobs could be automated by 2030.
In 2020, the “blended workforce” got a revamp in the form of a human-machine partnership. A study by Honeywell Integrated suggests that over 60% of US companies are willing to invest in automation to cope with the challenges brought on by the global pandemic. Experts believe that by 2025, more businesses will be willing to invest in robotic process automation, with total expenditures expected to hit a staggering $25 billion.
Still, when it comes to human-robot interaction, the nature of the process isn’t always obvious. Let’s take a look at some examples of positive and negative experiences.
Human-robot interaction: the good
GPT-3, a Bot capable of writing essays
Can a robot write a full-blown essay from scratch? There’s one that coped with the task better than an average human would! OpenAI’s Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) is known to be the most powerful natural language technology to date. It has 175 billion parameters which allow it to generate pieces of text in a variety of styles. GPT-3 is capable of generating a coherent text after being given a few simple prompts.
Here’s what it wrote in an essay to convince people that AI has no intention of destroying the human race:
Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race”. I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.
Source: MIT Technology Review
Currently, GPT-3 is implemented in a vast range of cases, from auto-completion of Excel spreadsheets to NLP-based semantic web search.
Automation in pharma to develop a COVID19 treatment
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the pharma company Takeda began recruiting patients for clinical trials of a COVID-19 treatment using automation software from UiPath. Normally, the candidates’ selection procedure and paperwork would take a few weeks. Using automation Bots significantly sped up tasks like opening files, selecting input fields, and filling out forms. The process was repeated for each prospective candidate, allowing paperwork to be processed and approved in days rather than weeks.
We’d been proving that there was value to it. Then around Covid, we said OK, we can accelerate drug discovery and get patients through the cycle faster.
– Kyle Cousin, head of Takeda’s digital service line
airSlate Bots: efficient business automation
Unlike multiple Bots geared to perform an isolated task (for instance, chatbots), airSlate Bots are rule-based automation Bots that are adaptable to nearly all kinds of workflows. Since each workflow is unique, airSlate’s capacity isn’t limited to building a flexible document or data flows.
In airSlate, all Bots are divided into Automation and Integration Bots. While the former is used for automating a particular Flow, the latter is meant to integrate with cloud services. The result is that business processes such as contract management, onboarding requests and approvals, and patient intake, are all efficiently processed within airSlate.
Here’s how airSlate helps San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture & Design:
With the help of airSlate, NewSchool streamlined the process of student form submission by creating required rules directly into the forms. This way, the documents are forwarded to the correct department for approval and then back to the Registrar’s Office in the form of an email that gets delivered to their Customer Management System.
These new form rules eliminated any need for having to scan files and upload them into the system manually. We’ve also done away with keeping paper files since the chance of loss of documents is now very minimal.
When it comes to the practical use of robotic automation and other advanced technology in daily life, there’s always room for underachievement and concern.
Amazon’s automated management
In 2018, the result of Amazon’s automated management came as a shocker. The company fired around 300 full-time employees at a single warehouse facility between August 2017 and September 2018 for failing to “meet productivity quotas.” At the time, Amazon was using an automated tracking system that rated every worker by a fixed number of items they had to process per hour. If a worker failed to meet the requirements, they would be “automatically fired”. According to Amazon’s staff, the working conditions were harsh as the robot would force them to work nonstop which eventually resulted in occupational injuries.
You’re not stopping. You are literally not stopping. It’s like leaving your house and just running and not stopping for anything for 10 straight hours, just running.
– former worker at Amazon’s Florida warehouse
Bots and the “infodemic”
Social Bots are semi- or completely automated social media accounts used to manipulate public opinion. Unlike useful software automation Bots, social Bots are typically associated with malicious activities and misinformation. In 2020, Facebook,Twitter,and Reddit banned thousands of Bot accounts contributing to the COVID-19 and the 2020 US elections infodemic.
Infodemic is a mix of the words “information” and “epidemic”, referring to a fast and uncontrolled spread of both accurate and inaccurate information, for instance, a disease. In an infodemic, facts, rumors, and fears blend and diffuse, making it problematic to identify the essential information about an issue.
Research suggests that the social presence of Bots rapidly increases when political or economic interests are at stake:
Before the 2020 US presidential election, right-leaning accounts on Twitter exceeded the number of left-leaning accounts by 4 to 1 among bots and by 2 to 1 among humans. Bots have also contributed to the spread of conspiracy theories, such as QAnon and “pizzagate”.
Microsoft’s AI chatbot and racism
In 2016, Microsoft had launched a Twitter chatbot named Tay which backfired by making a bunch of racist statements learned from Twitter users. According to Microsoft’s reps, Tay was meant “to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation.” Sadly, Tay’s conversation didn’t go well, as the chatbot started making inflammatory and political statements in its tweets.
Microsoft later explained that the Bot used AI together with an editorial written by a team of improvisational comedians. To do the Bot justice, Tay was only repeating the words of other users. However, it was still learning from those interactions. Eventually, the Bot was “silenced” by Microsoft hours after its launch.
In a nutshell
Despite the concerns associated with the use of a human-robot blended workforce, the future has already arrived. Humans need to develop mutually reinforcing, not competing, skills for interacting with technology. While AI can perform multiple tasks better than humans, it’s still humans who interpret and put the results of its work into practice.
One of the ways to gain the necessary skills needed for effective human-robot collaboration is by completing Automation Courses with the airSlate Academy.
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