A robotic workforce? No, humans are cheaper

“Yes – the pace of robots and smart machines has picked up, but it is still not so rapid that it will leave humans behind,” says French Caldwellformer Vice President at Gartner and now Chief Evangelist of GRC at MetricStream.

He does agree that many people will “find that they have been automated out of a job”. However, these will be people in the middle not at the top or bottom. And he adds: “robots will also help us to find new jobs”.

People will be surprised - “[the use of robots] won’t be as disruptive as the hype today would suggest,” he continues. 

“The more a robot can do, the more it will cost – humans should be able to still be less expensive than robots.  Plus robots for the foreseeable future will have to specialise, and we humans don’t – we’re more flexible.”

French envisages three possibilities for the robot-human hybrid workplace:

Firstly: “humans work for the robots – robots tell humans when they need help and what to do”.  

Secondly: “humans service and maintain the robots – that’s pretty straightforward – we are already doing that with lots of machines”.

Or thirdly: “humans own the robots—if you are worried about the smart machines taking over, go buy some and start leasing them out – there’s  a business model there somewhere, and the clever humans will figure it out”.

But what about specifics? What is working at the moment and how will robots be used in future?

What are the most interesting uses of robots you’ve seen in the current workplace? 

“Robots that can learn to do surgery, not just assist doctors, but where the doctors are essentially assisting them. One scenario that is developing is where we work for the machines – doing things that are just too difficult or too expensive for the machines to do.” 

“One of the challenges of the robotic workplace is figuring out the right rules for when the machine should quit trying to figure something out, and turn it over to the human, and ensuring the human is really prepared to take over.” 

How do you think robots be used in the future workplace?

“Robots are all around us and have been for a long time – it’s surprising that the public is just taking notice. One reason for that is that robots have in the past been in the background – doing pick lists in warehouses [or] working repetitive tasks on a manufacturing assembly line – routine, repeatable mechanical tasks that could be automated. 

What we are finding out now is that a lot of work that seemed non-routine is actually routine and repeatable, and thus suitable for robots – plus advanced analytics enables robotics engineers to program for a multitude of possible scenarios and the complex logic that enables the robot to identify the scenario.”


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