The ‘robot takeover’: finding the sweet spot between human and AI

IDG Connect speaks to eight technology experts for their thoughts and predictions around AI industry trends and how businesses and individuals can meet AI halfway for the oncoming ‘robot takeover’.


Aside from ‘COVID-19’, one of the key buzzwords of 2020 is undoubtedly ‘AI’ – artificial intelligence. A technology once reserved for technologically minded people alone is now seeping into the more everyday, ordinary lives of us all. So much so that many are fearing a not-so-affectionately coined ‘robot takeover’ is on the horizon. 

Yet it’s not all as insidious as those more cynical among us would have you believe. AI has truly proven its worth this year in streamlining business operations in-face of COVID restrictions, and continues to further lend its robotic hand in healthcare. But where is it taking us into 2021?

Automation in a nation divided

As the UK steps out of its second lockdown, Animesh Chowdhury, Founder & CTO at Goodtill, explains how, for pandemic recovery in hospitality, automation is no longer a survival tool; instead, it will be utilised to enhance processes and boost long-term efficiency:  

“As we emerge from lockdown, those who remain in tier three must keep their doors closed, while pubs, restaurants and bars in tiers one and two are once again allowed to re-open. However, by implementing tools such as electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) and online ordering platforms, these hospitality businesses can pivot services to allow click-and-collect services, continuing revenue streams while under tough restrictions. 

“Many sports stadiums allowing fans back in won’t be opening their concourses for food and drink at first, in fear of excessive queueing. However, those leveraging an EPOS system can facilitate orderly click-and-collect stations, where fans purchase refreshments through an app. To the lower league sports teams, this could make the world of difference in income.”

Maintaining human contact

According to the CBI, nine in ten workers will need to learn new skills or be retrained entirely over the next decade. This speaks volumes: 21 million Britons currently lack ‘basic digital skills’. 

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO & Co-Founder of Content Guru, explains what this means for the contact centre industry:

“One of the effects of the pandemic has been to fast-track automation and artificial intelligence technologies as a matter of necessity in industries everywhere – and nowhere more so than the contact centre sector. New and entirely more fulfilling contact centre roles are opening up for humans thanks to advancements in automation, AI and Natural Language Processing.

“I strongly believe in the concept that AI should assist human contact centre workers, rather than succeed them. We work to develop AI technology that integrates easily into digital customer channels, quickening decision-making and making it easier for contact centre workers to match customers with their most relevant products, services and information.” 

Richard Buxton, Director of N4 Engage, also shares his predictions on where AI and machine learning (ML) fit into the communications and contact centre space:

“These technologies can not only deliver information in a timely, accurate and repeatable way, but they’re also sophisticated enough for communications to seamlessly transition from a bot to a human – all without losing that feeling of human interactions.

“Bots aren’t necessarily replacing humans, just adding efficiency and freeing up agent time for more complex queries. A bot can manage most queries, which means the business will save money. The human agents will be more knowledgeable, and the workforce will be evolving to become more expert – with less people simply reading from scripts.

“COVID-19 has been an accelerant to moving the workforce from a service role to a more development/technology role, so organisations need to build up advanced technology skills. This will create new future career opportunities – there is a need for industry to start to invest in developing these skills to ensure that demand is met.”

All-seeing robots?

Rishi Lodhia, Managing Director EMEA at Eagle Eye Networks, delves into the growing market for AI-powered surveillance analytic technologies and the role it has played throughout the pandemic: 

"Advances in AI are such that cloud video surveillance is now transforming how companies manage their security and business operations.

"Within video surveillance the scope of AI-enabled applications is growing all the time and includes options such as monitoring employee arrivals, the presence of intruders, vehicle detection, moisture detection on floors, and other smart features such as loitering and mask detection. 

"AI-powered surveillance has also been applied to help organisations and their teams keep within current COVID-19 compliance guidelines. Consider how we’ve all had to change our behaviour this year – wearing masks, keeping to smaller groups. Integrating AI with cloud-based video surveillance has enabled these rules to be monitored, in real time.

"These capabilities not only improve analysis, speed and accuracy of the surveillance process, but they allow the technology to be applied to a much wider range of operational, efficiency and safety use cases than traditional CCTV.”

Another type of cyber threat?

As AI, automation and other emerging technologies have evolved in recent years, their capabilities have become a driving force shaping modern cybersecurity solutions.

Samantha Humphries, Security Strategist at Exabeam, comments:

"According to Exabeam’s 2020 Cybersecurity Professionals Salary, Skills and Stress Report, 88% of cybersecurity professionals believe automation will make their jobs easier.

“However, whilst AI and automation are helping to reduce response times and bolstering defence, there is also some concern from security professionals that these technologies will displace employees. 

With almost half (47%) of workers believing automation is a threat to their jobs as we head into the new year, security leaders should reassure employees these evolving technologies improve productivity and outcomes rather than eliminate jobs.

“AI and automation provide security professionals with greater opportunities to transition from lower-valued activities, such as data inputting, to high-profile, strategic projects. In 2021, security leaders should focus on alleviating concerns around these by sharing best practices and communicating possibilities for growth."

Automating efficiently

It’s also important to consider that while implementing new technologies will help lower the cost of some processes, automation doesn’t necessarily equal efficacy. Stephen Roostan, VP EMEA at Kenna Security, explains:

“Organisations will need to understand which are the right processes to automate. If the process is wrong to start with, automating it won’t create efficiency in itself, and even if it appears to, it might only be moving the problem onto another team or into a different department.  

“Before deploying new technology, enterprises should take the opportunity to rethink the process and reassess its value to the business. Getting it right from the outset will ensure that automation becomes an effective tool to measurably increase efficiency and optimise costs.

“Another consideration that IT teams need to keep in mind is the value that automation can bring to collaboration. With the remote working revolution being at the forefront of 2020, automation and data science tools have already made home-working a much easier process and they will continue to do so in 2021.”

Jim Darragh, CEO of Totalmobile also argues that the most important aspect of introducing new technologies is knowing where to stop, particularly in the public sector: 

“It’s critical that organisations find the right balance between human and machine and businesses need to focus on providing solutions that help employees do their job more efficiently.

“The public sector has been affected by the pandemic more than most, and the recent government wage freeze announcement puts further strain on employees. However, staff morale isn’t solely dependent on salary,” continues Darragh. “By automating admin tasks, or introducing technology that allows staff to spend more time working from home, public sector businesses can greatly improve the day-to-day work lives of their employees, taking away unnecessary stress factors and keeping them happy in their roles despite the wage freeze.”

A bright future

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft, rounds things off by looking into what particular benefits AI will bring to employee satisfaction and engagement:

"With AI automating many of the more mundane processes, overworked and overstressed teams – such as those working in cybersecurity – are freed up to work on far more rewarding and valuable tasks. This gives employees the opportunity to develop new technical competencies in areas such as analytics and programming, or increased proficiencies in the innately ‘human’ skills such as creativity, critical thinking and negotiation. 

"However, with twice as many women than men likely to work in jobs that will soon be automated, employers have a responsibility to ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, age, or location, shares in the spoils of new technology. This means offering a competitive, agile learning culture that enables reskilling, upskilling and job transitioning opportunities.”