Is the robot revolution coming?

Is the robot revolution coming?

Neill Hughes, Director of Direct Channel

Neill Hughes, Director of Direct Channel

There have been a few stories around recently warning that many of us are set to have our jobs replaced by robots in the next few years, and in some ways, it's easy to see where the concerns are coming from.

Some companies are already working on technologies that can take humans out of the equation wherever possible. Ride-hailing app Uber, for example, recently trialled self-driving cars in California (before authorities put a stop to it as they didn't have the relevant permits), while several banks are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) driven chatbots that can interact with customers and answer basic queries without the need for a human agent. But what does the future really hold for robots and AI in the workplace - and will it affect how you work?

Robots to play a key role

A report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecast a future where AI leads to a "paradigm shift" in the way we live and work. It predicted that every industry would be affected by the introduction of these technologies, which will become an integral part of our daily lives.

As a result of this, it estimated that as many as 35 per cent of jobs in the UK may be at risk of being replaced by technology in the next 20 years, with those in low-paying manual or services work considered most in danger.

Elsewhere, research by Gartner suggests nearly a third of large companies (30 per cent) will have adopted 'smart machines' by 2021 - with this including AI, intelligent automation, and machine learning.

Susan Tan, research vice president at Gartner, said: "Smart machines represent opportunities to help enterprises assess, select, implement, change and adapt talent, and for IT and business processes, the opportunity to successfully adopt smart machines for business benefits."

What it means for your business

While the introduction of these technologies to the workplace offers many great opportunities for businesses, firms won't be able to reap the rewards unless they have the right support infrastructure in place to make the most of it. For instance, many of these AI and machine learning applications will derive their data from Internet of Things sensors, so it will be vital that companies have effective connectivity to deliver this essential information in a timely manner.

And despite what the doom-mongers may say, staff will still be important. Today's machines may be far more advanced than a few years ago, but they still have their limitations. While a chatbot might be able to help take a payment, for example, there's a level of trust attached to a human interaction that robots just can't match for more complicated matters, such as long-term financial advice.

There's still a long way to go before the robots are really capable of taking over. In Uber's case, for instance, it was only a matter of hours into its first trial before videos were released showing their driverless cars running red lights, so it seems like there'll still be a place for the human touch for the foreseeable future.

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