Artificial intelligence has become good at so many things we once believed were the domain of humans and humans alone. From providing top-notch customer service to diagnosing cancer, bots are beating us in all kinds of industries from logistics to medicine.
We talk about collaboration a lot, but generally, it’s between humans working together toward a common goal. With robots, we’re dealing with a new class of coworkers, those with contrasting strengths and perhaps, less capacity for humor.
Companies like Tesla, Apple, and Facebook lead the charge on technological advances, but artificial intelligence has made its way into businesses of all sizes. Only about 41% of adults support advancing AI, and those folks tend to be wealthy, tech-savvy males.
Those who stand to see an influx of these new coworkers likely won’t fit the description of your average AI enthusiast.
Here are some examples of how humans and bots are already working together:
Chatbots — retailers across the board
Chatbots are the most obvious example of automation in the workplace — or at least the most visible sign of change.
Chatbots offer 24-hour support and the ability to take on tedious customer service tasks and free up support staff. According to a report from Juniper research, chatbots will bring roughly $11 billion in cost savings by 2023 across healthcare, retail, and financial services sectors.
Today’s customers care most about receiving top-notch service at their convenience, so the industry-wide investment in chat makes total sense. Gartner predicts that AI will take over more customer service tasks, which allow companies to better manage the customer experience.
Dealing with more automation is changing the role of the customer service rep, to be sure. On the human side, this role is more strategy-based — focused on improving the customer experience at every touch point.
Tech-enhanced brick and mortar staff
Marty is a tall gray robot that can navigate grocery store aisles on its own, using a collection of cameras and sensors to find and report safety issues like spills. Giant Food Stores have plans to add Marty robots to all of the chain’s 172 locations. Marty’s main purpose is to spot hazards, but other robots offer shoppers and stores a variety of benefits.
There’s the LoweBot, an autonomous service robot there to help customers find items and answer basic questions. The bot has been around for a couple of years now, and helps users figure out what type of tool they need and can process requests in multiple languages. Additionally, the LoweBot can help workers keep track of inventory.
Walmart’s autonomous scanners reduce issues caused by frequent stock shortages. The big box chain says that unavailable items are a major pain point for customers, and it can be a time-consuming task for employees to scan for items that customers can’t find.
Walmart is about to unleash an army of robotic janitors in their stores. The company put out a call for bids and recently announced a partnership with a company called Brain Corp. Walmart will employ 360 cleaning machines, equipped with a platform called BrainOS.
The goal is to keep the stores sparkling clean with no human oversight required. The existing scrubbers require a human operator to guide them down the store’s aisles each time the store needs to be cleaned. The initial onboarding phase requires someone to ride each robot around the entire store, so it memorizes the layout. After that first ride, the robot is ready to work without a human on its back.
Walmart says that the aim of this new initiative is to allow employees to focus on helping customers, rather than performing tedious cleaning tasks.
Because the stores are currently in the midst of training the robot janitors, we don’t know how this will impact employees. As it stands, Walmart employs more workers than any other U.S. company, so it could have a negative impact on the economy.
Robots in the medical sector
Given the startling statistics regarding patient infections in hospitals, medical staff need all the help they can get when it comes to keeping things germ-free. A study by the CDC found that using germ-killing robots can reduce the rate of hospital infections by 30 percent.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center has started using robots to do follow up job after humans perform normal sterilizations. The robots use ultraviolet radiation to kill germs, which allows hospitals to catch germs that human cleaners leave behind.
There’s also robotic surgery. The concept isn’t exactly new, but technology has improved dramatically in recent years.
The Senhance System is a surgical robot that was just cleared by the FDA for use in minimally invasive procedures. How it works is, surgeons use software to control surgical instruments, performing surgery remotely using three separate robotic arms. Senhance-based surgery stands to improve patient outcomes
Resistant as we may be to tech entering the workplace, we won’t be able to avoid it for long. It’ll be interesting to see how human job descriptions and duties shift in roles like customer service and medicine.
Customer service is becoming a more skilled job than it has been in the past. The role is now more strategic than being on hand to answer calls and assist customers. Medicine stands to change in the way that doctors might increasingly work with software, rather than directly performing surgery.
It seems robots are fitting in okay, though they’re still relatively new at this whole workplace thing. In the end, we will have to rethink the human scope of work — and find roles that align with every skill set.