If software robots can take on office work, what will humans do? This is a key question in an increasingly popular debate surrounding the economic implications of automation in the workplace – and the subject of a new article from New Scientist.
As we know, the benefits of implementing robotic process automation (RPA) software are myriad – increased efficiency, improved accuracy and an ability to remove mundane, process-oriented tasks from overstretched workers’ to-do lists are just a few. However, there are certainly those out there who wonder whether allocating work to robots will mean fewer jobs for people.
At Blue Prism, we maintain that relieving workers from time-consuming, repetitive tasks will not eliminate jobs, but create them. By efficiently taking care of rules-based admin tasks, automation enables new opportunities for innovative businesses and markets – all of which will require support from human brainpower.
For more on the enterprise automation debate, check out the latest from New Scientist’s Hal Hodson here. (Teaser below)
AI interns: Software already taking jobs from humans
People have talked about robots taking our jobs for ages. Problem is, they already have – we just didn’t notice
FORGET Skynet. Hypothetical world-ending artificial intelligence makes headlines, but the hype ignores what’s happening right under our noses. Cheap, fast AI is already taking our jobs, we just haven’t noticed.
This isn’t dumb automation that can rapidly repeat identical tasks. It’s software that can learn about and adapt to its environment, allowing it to do work that used to be the exclusive domain of humans, from customer services to answering legal queries.
These systems don’t threaten to enslave humanity, but they do pose a challenge: if software that does the work of humans exists, what work will we do?
In the last three years, UK telecoms firm O2 has replaced 150 workers with a single piece of software. A large portion of O2’s customer service is now automatic, says Wayne Butterfield, who works on improving O2’s operations. “Sim swaps, porting mobile numbers, migrating from prepaid onto a contract, unlocking a phone from O2″ – all are now automated, he says.
Humans used to manually move data between the relevant systems to complete these tasks, copying a phone number from one database to another, for instance. The user still has to call up and speak to a human, but now an AI does the actual work.
To train the AI, it watches and learns while humans do simple, repetitive database tasks. With enough training data, the AIs can then go to work on their own. “They navigate a virtual environment,” says Jason Kingdon, chairman of Blue Prism, the start-up which developed O2’s artificial workers. “They mimic a human. They do exactly what a human does. If you watch one of these things working it looks a bit mad. You see it typing. Screens pop-up, you see it cutting and pasting.”