We’ve reached a stage in our evolution where robots are old news. Something inconceivable not much more than a few years ago. Indeed, pretty much every sector now engages robots in some regard so that the story is no longer about the ‘rise of the robots’ but the ‘role of the robot’ - a less catchy but certainly more accurate headline.
Pandemic pressure on the workforce
This is largely (though not exclusively) down to the rapid changes we’ve seen in the last 12-18 months. The coronavirus crisis has given rise to fresh concerns about automation in labour markets. With people locked down and social distancing still in place, many businesses around the world have scaled up their investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to do the work everywhere from the warehouse to hospitals.
As we emerge from the pandemic and the world's economy begins to find some kind of equilibrium there’s going to be greater pressure exerted on the workforce. Efficiencies found by using bots that don’t sleep and need no time off are unlikely to be abandoned while organisations will need to find ways to cut costs and do more with less. On the surface, this is bad news for beings with DNA and a pulse.
According to a World Economic Forum forecast, in a shift likely to worsen inequality, half of all work tasks will be handled by machines by 2025. A separate report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) projects AI could replace as many as two million more workers in manufacturing alone by 2025.
Augment, not replace
Step forward the poster-child for the digital and automated age - Amazon. It’s easy to make the link that a company that knows what you’ve had for breakfast before you’ve had it would be the front runner for a fully automated workforce. Not so.
Speaking in 2019 to this BBC article, Tye Brady said the firm’s centres would never reach the point where they could be fully automated claiming, “Not at all. One ounce of my body just doesn’t see that.” more likely that it will create a “...symphony of humans and machines working together, you need both. The challenge that we have in front of us is how do we smartly design our machines to extend human capability”.
We couldn’t agree more. Never before have digital tools been so responsive to us, nor we to our tools. While robots will radically alter how work gets done and who does it, the technology’s larger impact will be in complementing and augmenting human capabilities, not replacing them.
Purpose, potential, and perspective
According to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 45% said that building an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability, and resilience is critical to transforming work. To reach that goal, embracing a trio of essential human attributes - purpose, potential, and perspective - can humanise work and create lasting value for the workforce, and throughout the organisation and society at large. You can read more about this study in this great article on MIT Technology Review.
And that is exactly where we sit. Bots are invaluable, inevitable and almost irreplaceable in the workplace today. The hard skills they possess like; providing unbiased information, maintaining work schedules, problem solving and maintaining a budget are simply unbeatable to humans. But the soft skills like; understanding employees’ feelings, coaching employees, creating a work culture - things that are hard to measure, but affect someone’s workday will remain uniquely human.