Wake up and smell the coffee

This week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a paper saying that around 1.5 million jobs in England are at high risk of some of their duties and tasks being automated in the future.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/whichoccupationsareathighestriskofbeingautomated/2019-03-25

1.5 million jobs! Those that are most likely to work in roles that are at high risk of automation are young people, women and those who work part time. The three occupations with the highest probability of automation are waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations, all of which are low skilled or routine.

What I found most interesting about the last point is the inclusion of waiters and waitresses in the group of jobs as having the highest probability of being automated. Having watched the first series of Westworld last year, and thinking of all the other cyborgs, androids, and robots I have seen either on the news, or the big screen, the thought of having my Flat White served to me by a robot leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth, and that’s not down to the coffee.

I want the waiter or waitress I interact with to be warm, funny, responsive. To be able to engage in a conversation that isn’t driven by probability or logic, or by the odds of what I am going to say next. I want them to laugh or grimace at my joke, to talk about random events, to discuss the meaning of life. You know, to be human! So if the day does come that I’m greeted by a humanoid, or robotic arm behind the counter of Costa, well I guess it will be time to finally invest in my own coffee machine.

Last week I attended Automation Anywhere’s Imagine event in London. Having read the article by the Office of National Statistics, I feel it is a shame that the author did not benefit from some of the talks I had the pleasure of listening to. The visionaries, from the Automation Anywhere co-founders to the Chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov, were not talking about job losses through Robotic Process Automation and AI, but instead they were talking about digital workforces partnering with humans to shape Augmented, not Artificial Intelligence. They were talking about the possible benefits on the quality of work due to the introduction of RPA. They were talking about making work Human, about people doing what they are made for.

Garry Kasparov, who I have to admit I had never heard speak until last week, totally blew me away. He recalled his chess battles against computers, and his loss to Deep Blue, in 1997, the first time that he had been beaten, ever! He spoke of automation creating new tasks, new jobs, and new industries. Rather than replacing employment, it would momentarily disrupt it. Around his talk, the Automation Anywhere co-founders spoke of the new roles created through RPA. Process designers, bot analysts, bot creators, process experts and COE managers to name a few.

In his talk at Imagine, Chris Brauer (Director of Innovation in the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths) noted a few stats based on studies conducted with regard to Automation & Artificial Intelligence in the workplace.

72% of people in the workplace saw technology as something to work with, rather than something that would replace them as a worker.

65% said that in the long term (4-6 years) they see technology as something that will replace them as a worker.

40% of people say that if their repetitive tasks were automated, they would use the resulting spare time to learn a new skill or increase their knowledge.

We might be a long way away from getting a coffee served by a robot at Starbots, or Robsta, but Robotic Process Automation is already here. The way we work is changing, and those of us that are leading the change are responsible for shaping our future. We are introducing new jobs, and taking away the mundane and repetitive ones away, so our children aren’t resigned to being data entry administrators. We are making work more interesting, and we are instilling empowerment, not fear. As much as the likes of Skynet want robots to take over the world, I truly believe in Augmented Intelligence, a future of humans and computers working in tandem. I take my inspiration from the likes of Neeti Mehta, Ankur Kothari (two of the Automation Anywhere co-founders), and the Grand Master Kasparov. It’s a shame some of the doom and gloom authors don’t do so.

I am sure you have gauged by now that I am very much about the human element and influence in technology. I would like to end on what is a very positive story for me. In 2015, the Henn-na Hotel in Japan, introduced robots to do a lot of the work, from sorting and transporting luggage to gardening. Now four years later the hotel “sacked” half of its robot workforce following complaints from some guests about the practical limitations of the machines.

https://www.businessinsider.com/henn-na-hotel-fires-robots-hires-humans-2019-1?r=US&IR=T

The irony of robots being sacked for creating more work for humans made me smile. The future is bright and colourful. For my part, I will make sure it includes the lovely shade of Intellimorph Indigo.

Mohomad Shafi Sacoor
Chief Delivery Officer

Mohomad Shafi Sacoor