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  • Melvin Mathews

Business transition: from employees to robots

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

As technology evolves around us, we see more and more jobs are automated or certain jobs are delegated to smart machines or robots. This removes the human from the scene, although we have always found alternate work for ourselves or reinvent how we provide value.

Despite popular sentiments, to most businesses, employees are mostly pure liability. If a company could operate without employees, it certainly would. Robots are ideal because once programmed they are:

  •  obedient and compliant always

  • self-learning and can be autonomous with AI

  • not prone to forgetfulness, mistakes and errors

  • upgradable and disposable easily

  • capable of working 24/7/365 - without pay, raises, promotions, breaks, weekends, vacation, injury, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, strikes, etc

  • constructed to work in any environment including hostile, toxic and hazardous

  • do all sorts boring jobs that humans may not find attractive or enjoy doing

However, before we digest this subject further it is perhaps important to understand how we got to the point of eliminating humans altogether from the workforce. As primitive people we were creative enough to use tools to make our work easier. Everybody developed skills to do everything, which was necessary to live.

Operating phase

The industrial revolution changed what humans could do with tools. Operated by people, machines could far outperform what could be achieved manually. Machines and equipment slowly but steadily percolated into every part of human life. We have now reached a point where machines are an integral part of our existence as a modern civilization. Machines have allowed us to reach an unprecedented scale of production. This freed up people from agriculture to go into industrial manufacturing. This resulted in the rapid urbanization of the world with people moving to cities from rural agricultural areas.

Co-working phase

We are quite far from a time when humans will be totally obsolete as employees. However, there will come a time when the world gets completely automated, with smart machines doing almost everything. However, before that there is bound to be an intermediate phase where humans coexist with smart robots. These smart robots that collaborate and work with humans have already been named ‘Cobots’. This is a phase where:

  • smart machines can do repetitive tasks but can’t handle breakdown or unexpected situations.

  • despite AI and machine learning, smart robots are not able to think for themselves

  • humans must be retrained to work alongside and to cooperate with these robots

  • humans must be retained to make up for the lack of empathy, conscience & creativity in smart machines

  • machines are commercially not viable, as there is a time lag to identify errors and carry out repair when they breakdown, makes economic sense having humans monitoring them.

Cyborg phase

The tail end of this intermediate phase may see humans integrating with sensors, devices and machines that enhance their natural capability. This is the 'wearables’ or ‘implants’ phase where we as humans will have machine enhanced vision, sense of smell, listening, strength, etc that will be far superior to our natural abilities. It will perhaps also be the phase where human to human, human to machine and machine to human communication will accelerate to catch up with the speed of machine to machine information and data transfer.

Merger or Singularity?

This is the part I struggle with predicting. With advances in 3D printing of body parts and organ replacement, will we eventually merge with machines completely, retaining our human consciousness in a replaceable body? or will machines become so intelligent that humans will be overpowered by superior artificial intelligence and computing power? This ultimate phase will most likely be unraveled only by time.

Fortunately, the current generation of humans at least for now have the upper hand when it comes to soft skills such as decision making, brainstorming and ideas, situational awareness, negotiation, empathy, rationalization, leadership, etc. Even in the age of the machines it is believed that humans with a sense of purpose will still be needed for inspiration, motivation, spotting business opportunity, leading transformation, collaboration, etc. Are you already living at such a time?

Let me know your thoughts.

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