The eternal discussion of Man vs. Machine will be never ending ... even though the benefits of automation and other technologies are thoroughly understood. Cost benefits, time efficiency, and consistency are major driving factors for organisations to focus on technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence.
On the other hand, there is the classic argument of innovative technologies driving unemployment.
Artificial Intelligence had already started impacting lives in subtle, yet profound, ways such as its application in weather forecasts, email filters, voice and image recognition, etc. But now, what was once just a segment of our imagination, is taking root in everyday lives. Today, phone calls can be attended by virtual assistants, autonomous cars can safely take us to our destinations, and repetitive manual tasks taken over by bots that can outperform any human employee multiple times over.
With the advent of RPA, rules-based business processes can be fully automated. Data entry, extraction, report preparation, emails, invoices, tech support and payrolls, etc are areas that are already fully automated by several organisations. These can also be scheduled, logged and fully controlled so as to be completely independent of any human intervention.
Apart from the obvious cost reduction and time efficiency, employees can now focus on other productive tasks. Robotic process automation has the potential to automate 30-40 per cent of existing business processes and with between 30-200 per cent potential return on investment in the first year of implementation.
Organizations are realising the power of these disruptive technologies and undertaking digital transformation initiatives that will have far-reaching effects on every enterprise function, and using it to enhance their decision-making with actionable intellectual insights.
We are not the fastest or the strongest species out there. Yet, we dominate the planet owing to our intellect. Our ability to communicate, learn from mistakes, improvise, and make rational decisions make up for the lack of our physical strength.
What would happen if a new species is introduced that outperforms us, both intellectually and physically? It would dominate us, just like how we domesticate other animals. That’s what digital disruptive technologies like AI are.
Jobs are automated and taken over by a better virtual workforce, which leaves us desperate to maintain our livelihood with lesser options. We then see people in the labour force striking back against the machines on how they are harming the society.
Nowadays, machines do most of the physical labour for us, from cranes to 3D printers that have significantly reduced human efforts. Their components are replaceable, they can work tirelessly and complete thousands of complex calculations within fractions of a second, which we cannot claim for ourselves.
With machine learning, we can teach computers years’ worth of knowledge that can be then processed in a matter of minutes. We are not in a position to compete against our own super creations, but to rather use it to our advantage.
There are winners and losers from technological disruptions. Disruptions can happen quicker than what individuals are able to adapt. Among the consequences is a lost group of people, who lack the knowledge or skills to adapt.
We should, therefore, equip ourselves with better talent and expertise to stay in the competition between man and machines. The key to handling this transition and keeping pace is learning new competitive skills right from our education system to create a futuristic workforce.
Rajesh Tacker is Partner at RSM AE Technology.