The future of automation can be summed up in one word: unstoppable. Whether companies like it or not, we will have to get used to hearing words like robots, AI, and automation every day. However, this isn’t something that will occur in the blink of an eye. A transition still needs to occur.
For a start, as digital economy researchers Beane & Brynjolfsson explain, companies are not prepared to implement and benefit from highly complex automation systems like AI-enabled robots. These technologies require important capital investments, including both hardware and software. Most importantly, companies need to embrace a new mentality because the future of work looks very different from what we have now.
In this post we discuss what the future of automation looks like, specifically focusing on the role that AI and robots will play in it. If you want your company to be prepared for what’s coming, it is best to start preparing today.
Automation and the Digital Economy
Throughout recent human history, automation has been a powerful driver of change. It has allowed entire societies to mobilize for specific goals. Without automation, capitalism as we know it would not even exist. Thanks to recent advances in the fields of AI and robotics, we are now entering a new era of automation, one that is pairing up with the digital economy. As if that weren’t enough, technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) are also pairing up with AI and robots to build even more powerful systems through internet-enabled networks.
Like in the past, companies will need to adapt in order to survive the new digital economy. Failing to do so will lead to competitors who are better suited to meet the market’s needs taking over. This sounds scary, but it is true, and the best thing companies can do to adapt is to start by understanding the fundamentals of the future of automation.
The Future of Automation: Why It Matters
Predicting the future is hard. It is even harder to predict the impact that specific technologies will have in the future. This was famously put into words by American futurist Roy Amara into what is known as Amara’s Law, which states that we humans tend to overestimate the impact that technologies will have on the short term while we underestimate the same technology’s impact on the long term.
This is true for many disrupting technologies, and robots, AI, and automation are no exception. They have the power to change completely how many business processes work. For many companies, this is a big challenge. They face the need to change, but in order to do so, they must first reimagine how their processes will work in the future. To do so, it is necessary to understand the impact of AI and robots in the long term.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI and automation go hand in hand. AI has the potential to help companies gain in efficiency and productivity not only by improving existing processes. It can also help reimagine how things are done.
The relationship between Artificial Intelligence and driverless cars is one of the things most people think about when they think of automation. However, there is much more to automation than self-driving cars. Many business processes can be automated thanks to the use of AI technologies like Machine Learning.
By teaching machines to perform specific tasks, companies will be able to optimize their processes in ways that they can hardly imagine. One can even say that the future of automation will allow companies to redesign their processes. Supply chains, logistic operations, production lines, and even warehouse management will be disrupted as a result of AI automation.
This all sounds great, but it is easier said than done. First of all, large amounts of data will be needed in order to develop powerful Machine Learning algorithms. Second, a company’s personnel will need to learn new skills in order to work with AI-based systems. This will demand of companies that they reconfigure the ‘job’ concept; put differently, labor will need to adapt. Lastly, boards and management teams will have to rethink how decisions are made in the new age of automation.
The idea of a robot immediately evokes what science fiction literature calls a cyborg: a humanoid robot that can perform human-like tasks. However, we are very far from a cyborg scenario occurring. Instead, we can rely on simpler robots for many useful things.
Robots are evolving, and companies can make use of them to perform repetitive tasks. Even more important, robots can be used to perform repetitive tasks better than humans do. Robots can be connected to other machines through the Internet of Things to build powerful networks of devices that can be operated at a distance, allowing for contactless operations while increasing operational security and decreasing potential labor risks.
Thanks to advances in AI and new ways of performing specific tasks with robots through Robotics as a Service (RaaS), companies can hire flexibly the robot capacity they need. This can save them many resources, including the investments needed to buy the robots, and can provide them with the skills necessary to operate them and the knowledge to keep them running. By delegating these responsibilities to third parties through RaaS, a company can easily implement robots into its processes.
This, however, like in the case of AI, comes with many challenges and risks. In particular, it puts certain workers’ jobs at risk, specifically those in charge of performing repetitive tasks, including both low and high-level. The good thing is that new job opportunities will arise in terms of maintaining these robot-led systems going. Shifting to this new workforce is a major challenge for the future.
The Digital Economy: Robots, Artificial Intelligence and Automation
Implementing technologies like robots and Artificial Intelligence is not going to be easy. As a technology company, we know this. It is necessary not only to stay up to date and invest in the best software, but also to invest in new hardware, and most importantly, to change the company’s mindset.
Many companies will surely look the other way when it comes to the future of automation. This is not surprising. Companies that wish to implement radical new automation technologies will face:
- Costly investments
- Process redesign
- Worker reskilling
- Organizational transformation
This isn’t some minor thing, as this is not just a quantitative change in how companies operate, but a qualitative one. This means that the increase in productivity resulting from automation will initially take some time. In other words, it won’t be something that happens immediately. This process is often referred to as the J-curve, as the investments will pay off eventually, but companies will first experience a decline in productivity and performance while the new systems are fully implemented in a successful way. After all, redesigning how companies operate will require some time.
The Future of Work and Automation
The future of work is closely related to the future of automation. Since the first industrial revolution, humanity has seen how more and more activities have been automated. This time will not be the exception. However, it will be the first time that we see this change occur at such a massive scale and with such powerful tools.
One of the best things companies can do to stay relevant in their markets is to develop a system of lifetime learning. Only through a successful knowledge management system will they be able to adapt to the new technologies that will define the future of automation.
Another smart thing that companies can do to guarantee a successful adaptation is to pair up with a strategic technology partner that can help them implement AI and robot technologies into their processes. This is not something that anyone can do, so finding the right fit is key to success. The ideal technology consultant will not only have the right technological vision but also the necessary skills and knowledge to implement the changes your company needs.