Could Robots Actually Create More Jobs?

But a new study from Redwood Software and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) offers a bit of an antidote.

The report looked at trends in robotics automation in 23 countries over the past 20 years to quantify their impact on GDP per capita and labor productivity. The analysis revealed that robotics now adds more value to the economy than traditionally lucrative industries like financial services and transportation. However, that compared to job growth indicates that we actually aren’t losing workers to automation.

“There is clear evidence that points toward robotic automation in many cases being a complement for human labor, rather than a direct substitute,” said David Whitaker, managing economist at CEBR, in a statement. He asserted that mundane tasks are the ones being automated. As such, Whitaker said, “Human effort becomes more valuable as it is focused on higher-level tasks, creativity, know-how, and thinking.”

Investment in robotics has a greater positive impact on the economy than more established sectors such as information technology, construction, and real estate, according to the report. A 1% increase in robotics investment, the report says, correlates with an increase in GDP per capita of 0.03%.

The report revealed that the U.S. is leading the charge to invest in automation technologies with an estimated robotics stock of $732 billion.

As for the jobs themselves, Neil Kinson, chief of staff at Redwood Software, believes that robotics automation is actually increasing the total number of jobs available. Indeed, the U.S. economy added over 2 million jobs for 75 months since 2009. Like Whitaker, Kinson maintains that work will ultimately change. “The increased level of automation investment highlights the need to rethink how we approach the skill sets needed in the workplace, and the importance of working with automation,” he said, “and not against it.”

Source: FastCompany-Could Robots Actually Create More Jobs? 

Four workplace trends to look out for in 2017

The automation of work has already begun, but according to a new whitepaper, not all employees have to be worried about losing their jobs to machines.

While the Internet has allowed for the rise of employees collaborating remotely; developments in artificial intelligence have also prompted more automation at the workplace.

How will these trends shake up the workplace in 2017? Here are four key factors to look out for, as based on a new whitepaper by Compass Offices.

Automation will take over, but employees might keep their jobs

According to employment portal Glassdoor, the ongoing fear that automation will render many people jobless appears to be unlikely.

It found that the roles most likely to be affected by automation will be routine jobs that do not require much creative judgement or flexibility.

For example, these would be jobs that involve answering generic emails or scheduling meetings. To counter this, workers need to develop skills that are complementary to technological advances, instead of working on the same tasks that machines will one day be able to automate.

This is currently happening in Singapore where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – the practice of using software to automate structured workflow – is being implemented at the enterprise level. While humans will still be needed, the incoming trend is that business tasks will become increasingly codified.

HR will transform with the help of big data

While this point has been widely discussed, it still bears repeating.

HR will transform into “people science,” due to the rise of big data. Thanks to all the data gleaned from staff and customer base, businesses will be able to make better decisions, have faster turnaround times on projects and cater better to customers.

These could include being able to track an employee’s progression stages throughout a company, from onboarding to annual review. Being able to gather real-time feedback from staff is also another way to foster and retain happy workers.

Employee well-being will become a priority

Improving the well-being of employees has been increasing in importance over the past few years.

Studies show that cultivating good company culture, developing an attractive work environment and investing in the professional future of your employees leads to more productivity, engagement and retention.

The Compass Index, an annual survey of 1,200 workers across Asia Pacific, showed that 65.3% of workers in China consider “career development” their key motivator. This indicates that upward mobility is one of their top priorities.

In Hong Kong, where a mix of C-suites and managers were surveyed, “work environment” was considered by 29% the most important element at work, while “career development” came in at 26%.

Workers will look beyond compensation for satisfaction

Despite compensation being important to surveyed workers, high pay doesn’t move the meter much in terms of employee satisfaction. In its employer review survey, Glassdoor notes that “culture and values” was the number one important factor for respondents.

Today’s workers are looking for more than just a good paycheck; they want a place of work that resonates with their values.

But compensation still carries weight, as it is an indicator of opportunity for upward mobility at a company.

In fact, the Compass Index reveals that workers are optimistic about getting a pay raise this year. Respondents in the Philippines (65.6%), Hong Kong (43%), Singapore (38.8%) and Australia (34.4%) all replied hopefully when prompted for their thoughts on increased compensation this year.

Source: workplace trends to look out for in 2017

Taking the robot out of the human

What do Americans fear more than flying, germs, or animals? Computers replacing people in the workforce. The 2016 Chapman University Survey on American Fears found 16 percent of respondents were afraid or very afraid of losing jobs to technology. And the generation that’s grown up attached to a smartphone is even more concerned. An international 2016 Infosys survey of 16-to 25-year-olds found that 40 percent thought their current jobs could be replaced by some form of automation within a decade.

So just how worried should we be about being replaced by a robot?

Not very, according to Martin Fiore, Americas Tax Talent Leader for EY, the global professional services firm. Fiore believes we should look forward to working alongside robots, particularly young people starting their careers. EY is the number two hiring firm for U.S. college graduates.

“Robots can free workers from mundane tasks, allowing them to provide purpose and value at a higher level,” says Fiore. EY uses Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in its tax practice, which consists of bots, or software applications that handle repetitive, high-volume automated tasks.

“Our people used to have to spend hours cutting and pasting, pulling together disparate pieces of information, “ says Fiore. “Now they can start with that information and ask ‘What does it mean for our client?’ It’s a huge change.”

Using this type of automation allows EY workers to focus on interpreting data as they work alongside a bot, according to Fiore. He says the bots haven’t cost any jobs at EY.

“We’ve taken the robot out of the human, “ says Fiore, by eliminating mundane and repetitive tasks. He says this is especially important for millennials, who want to make a difference early in their careers and apply what they’ve learned in college more quickly.

This sounds great for an information worker who no longer has to slog through data, but what about other industries? Momentum Machines has developed a robot that creates 400 made-to-order hamburgers in an hour without any help from humans. A 2015 Ball State University report found that almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years could be attributed to enhanced productivity because of automation. Can we expect more jobs to disappear as robots become cheaper and smarter?

It depends on who you ask. A 2016 Oxford University report found that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of being lost to automation over the next two decades.

But a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report concluded that fewer than five percent of careers can be completely automated using existing technology. However, the report found about half of work activities could potentially be done by a machine. Data collection and processing and predictable physical work are the activities most likely to be automated.

Perhaps the most likely scenario is that many of us will end up working alongside robotic technology, like EY’s tax practitioners, rather than being kicked to the curb by them. For example, Fiore says a robot could lay bricks while a human being directs its work.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are already using a digital assistant or some form of robotic technology, according to Loop Intelligence. A Roomba cleaning the kitchen floor has become routine for many of us, frightening only the cat.

But even as we become more reliant on Siri and Alexa in our personal lives, accepting more automation at work won’t be easy. Companies that invest in robotic technology will have to work hard to manage the people side of change. Workers worried about losing their jobs may have to learn new skills. For example, Momentum Machines, the maker of the burger bot, posted a job ad for a “restaurant generalist” who can troubleshoot software—quite a different skill from what’s normally expected of fast food workers.

“If you look at what’s ahead, you’re either going to be disrupted, or get in front of the disruption,” says Fiore. He says the best way to prepare workers for robotic technology is to help them understand how it will benefit them—improving the quality of their work, reducing mundane tasks, and giving them the time to provide purpose and value at a higher level.

Source: the robot out of the human

Forbes Insights: Data & Advanced Analytics: High Stakes, High Rewards

Summary: Global executives that understand the full value of advanced analytics are making it a core element in their business strategies and using it as a competitive differentiator. That’s why they’re embedding analytics into all parts of their enterprises, beyond traditional pockets like marketing and sales departments. Senior leaders are opening their minds—and their checkbooks—to capitalize on opportunities created by the explosion of data and sophisticated analytics. But a new survey by EY and Forbes Insights shows that this is one area where simply boosting investments doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. In fact, many large enterprises throughout the world still struggle to achieve the promise of today’s analytics capabilities.

This report is based on a survey of 1,518 executives across a range of industries conducted by Forbes Insights, in collaboration with EY, in August and September of 2016. Thirty-four percent of the executives are based in the Asia-Pacific Rim region, 34% in the Americas, and 32% in EMEA. Respondents are C-level executives, of whom 25% are chief executives or presidents of their organizations. Executives’ companies had at least $500 million in annual revenues, and 21% had revenues of more than $50 billion.

To download a pdf of the study, please fill out the following information. If you experience any trouble, please send an email to:

To read the report online, please click here.

See how your organization’s data and advanced analytics capabilities stack up against the survey participants and download a personalized analytics maturity report with our 15-minute Analytics Self-Assessment Tool.

Source: Insights: Data & Advanced Analytics: High Stakes, High Rewards

How this NYC startup is using bots to create a more human workforce

At seven-year-old startup WorkFusion, employees are working at the helm of what they call ‘intelligent automation.’

The New York company is in the business of Robotic Process Automation, with the lofty goal of building the future of work. Their software can sift through massive volumes of content and make intelligent decisions — automating menial, low-impact tasks that take up 40 percent of workers’ days, and up to 90 percent of a person’s manual work.

WorkFusion was founded by Max Yankelevich and Andrew Volkov out of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab in 2011. Now, backed by over $71 million in venture capital, the company digitizes business tasks and operations, including processes like accounts payable, customer onboarding and chatbots that increase service capabilities.

We caught up with Adam Devine, WorkFusion’s Head of Marketing, to discuss what the company is up to now, and how that will play into its long-term vision of using software to reduce the “carbon footprint” of companies’ business operations by driving rapid productivity by way of artificial intelligence.

In laymen’s terms, what is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that uses software bots to perform repetitive tasks on legacy systems. RPA tools operate the user interfaces of enterprise applications such as Citrix, Oracle and SAP to automate routine actions such as data entry, insurance claims payouts, information verification and send responses by following programmed rules. RPA reduces human resources required for high-volume business processes. It can greatly improve the quality and speed of processing for shared services organizations – especially within data-intensive industries such as banking, financial services, insurance and healthcare.

In what ways will RPA change the future of work in the short-term?

There have been many recent headlines on robotics eliminating jobs. RPA doesn’t fully replace jobs; it redistributes menial tasks from a workers’ day and frees up time for them to focus on more complex tasks. Software bots complete these tasks faster, and with fewer errors, and people are elevated to work that requires their intelligence and critical thinking. Those who incorporate RPA into their processes and workflows will see big efficiency gains.

In the long term?

RPA is the first step to digitization. Once adopted, many businesses see its impact and want to expand their automation efforts. RPA is often a stepping stone to intelligent automation, which uses machine learning to automate business processes with more variability and judgment work. It applies natural language processing, optical character recognition (OCR), image recognition and more to gain context and make judgments, and it can learn over time. By pairing RPA with these cognitive technologies, enterprises minimize operational bottlenecks and support high-level jobs and workers through automation. This combination can have a far-reaching impact, improving everything from productivity to lowering the bottom line to customer relationships to employee engagement by freeing workers of boring, mundane work.

In what ways does WorkFusion digitize business?

The expectations for real-time output has increased and businesses are struggling to meet this demand. WorkFusion’s automation tools are being applied to a number of horizontal and industry-specific processes. Horizontally, our RPA tool automates and eliminates the ‘swivel chair’ work of entering credentials, navigating application user interfaces and performing core systems functions.

Vertically, there are many industries benefiting from our solutions. In the insurance industry, for example, WorkFusion’s AI capabilities are being used to take over the first step in the claims process to match customer information in databases. It’s also being used for regulatory compliance, handling tasks such as LEI mapping and verifying customers, as well as fact checking and reconciling life insurance claims to detect fraud. In banking, our AI-powered chatbots are trained on historical conversations so they can perform the same tasks as a human agent, such as answering customer questions or even fixing an invoice without burdening people. These are just some examples of how we’re digitizing operations.

How is it possible that WorkFusion eliminates 90 percent of manual work?

Our software bots and cognitive technologies are used for work that requires little to no human intervention to incredibly high-volume back- and front-office tasks. Our AI capabilities learn highly manual tasks in any industry with the need for data scientists – and get smarter over time.

What’s in the pipeline for WorkFusion this year?

In the coming weeks, WorkFusion will be releasing RPA Express, a free tool, to the general public. The beta, released in December, sparked great interest in the product, with hundreds of companies signing up. This tool is a great way for companies to get started or accelerate their digitization efforts and get quick wins and efficiency-gains with no cost or risk. Another project we’re excited about is the launch of our public education portal ‘Automation University’ this summer to help operations and IT teams learn more about RPA. The free materials, classes and exams offered will help organizations grow the maturity of their skill base.

If WorkFusion hits the market right, then what?

We were founded in and have been building our solutions since 2011. We often joke that we were four years too early for the market. The demand for and adoption of Process Automation tools is just becoming more widespread, but we’re ready to capitalize on it. We’ve got a strong customer base already seeing results and believe our RPA Express solution – the world’s first free RPA product – will attract many more that want to begin or accelerate their digitization efforts and will eventually grow into the full breadth of intelligent automation capabilities that WorkFusion provides.

The global RPA market alone is expected to reach $8.75 billion by 2024. And that’s just RPA. When looking at robotics and related services more broadly, this number is expected to reach $135 billion globally by 2019. We also see a big opportunity to take some of the nearly $63.5 billion global business process outsourcing market – our automation technology is already taking over many tasks traditionally outsourced to companies overseas.

Source: this NYC startup is using bots to create a more human workforce

Digital technology to unlock revenue for insurance companies

Insurance companies are facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities where digital is no longer just a new way to package and sell traditional concepts, but something that will redefine the industry at its core.The massive value of today’s $5 trillion global insurance market is impossible to ignore. Add to that over $1.63 trillion worth of new value to be unlocked if the industry is digitised by 2018 – and the industry becomes even more exciting.

This is demonstrated in Cognizant’s recent report on the future of work in insurance, The Work Ahead – Seven Key Trends Shaping the Future of Work in the Insurance Industry. The report is part of a larger study for which Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work interviewed 168 insurance company executives worldwide on their digital and technological priorities, how they view the opportunities presented by digital transformation and its impact on future developments in their business.

Insurance providers, traditionally focused mainly on their core business, should rethink what they do, and how they do it, in the face of change driven by data, automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Digital is key
According to the research, approximately two-thirds of insurers (61%) believe that digitally-driven transformation is the key to their organisation’s commercial future. The data-driven insurance industry has much to gain from working with automation and machine learning that enhances the ability to analyse and create value through data.

For a corporation, being more strategic and specialised may mean targeting a micro-vertical niche, for example, bio-chemical research intellectual property protection, rather than continuing to pursue large, undifferentiated marketplaces. Furthermore, being more automated and technical may mean reducing costs in back-office business processes through the deployment of robotic process automation (RPA). Almost all respondents agreed with the statement that “the required skills to succeed in my industry are going to change significantly in the next three years”.

As such, by 2018, there will be five major business dynamics that will materially impact the future of work in insurance:
• Work will become more strategic than ever
• Work will become more specialised
• Work will become more automated
• We will work more with machines that enhance what humans already do
• Work will become more technical

In order to keep up with the competition, insurance companies should adapt to these dynamics and equip their employees with the relevant skills.

Data-based insights lay the ground for analytical skills
A significant number (68%) of insurance executives said that, in 2016, analytical skills were the most important. By 2020, this figure rises to 88%. Analytical skills will only grow in importance as businesses increasingly understand the power of data and data-based insights.

In contrast, 57% said “selling” was the second most important skill in 2016. By 2020, this figure will have remained relatively consistent and will only have grown to 61%. Respondents perceive selling remains very essential but that its importance will not grow substantially over the next few years. The ability to sell products and services will always remain relevant; however, other skills previously given less recognition, such as data analytics, are a key requirement for insurance companies, in a world increasingly driven by software.

Michael Clifton, Senior Vice President, global insurance strategy and ventures, Cognizant, comments: “It is clear there is an industry consensus on the central role of data and analytics – both now and in the future – in shaping business models and commercial opportunities. In many ways, this is not a surprise, but the research confirms something profound: without a data-centric approach at the core of what an insurance company does and how it does it, some may struggle to maintain their current spot in a competitive industry – and unlock the trillions worth of new value in it.

To download the study please click on the title The Work Ahead – Seven Key Trends Shaping the Future of Work in the Insurance Industry

Source: technology to unlock revenue for insurance companies

Robotic Process Automation Takes on the Data Challenge

A relatively new field, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is best thought of as robotics. The key difference is that the thing being manipulated at lightning fast speeds is data, not automobiles or electronics.

RPA is the performance by bots of repetitive rules-based processes that involve databases and other forms of structured data (such as data captured in databases). It is used in data-intensive industries such as banking, financial services, insurance and health care, according to Adam Devine, vice president and head of marketing for WorkFusion. “In fewer words, RPA helps companies do with technology what they did before with people.”

It is a technology whose time has come. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data – interrelated disciplines that collect and analyze huge amounts of data, respectively – makes RPA a necessary tool, not something that is nice to have, but not mission-critical.

A Booming RPA Market Potential

 The demand for RPA is clearly showing up in the numbers. “We have seen projections of 60 percent compounded annual growth rate,” wrote David Schatsky, the managing director of Deloitte LLP, in response to emailed questions. “There is no question that here in the U.S., interest is very strong.”

Ian Barkin, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Symphony Ventures, holds an even more upbeat view of the category’s potential. “[W]hite-collar office jobs are everywhere; this is a service economy after all,” Barkin wrote. “So, yes, RPA robots have a much bigger impact. Our estimates are that there is a $2.5 to $3 trillion market for middle and back-office work addressable in Shared Services centers alone.”

RPA and Jobs

The impact of RPA mirrors concerns about automation and physical robotics. It is impossible to say exactly how it will play out, but the early indications are that the outcome will be positive.

The negative interpretation is simple: RPA will replace people. The more positive (and perhaps more nuanced) outlook layer, though, starts with the idea that the emergence of Big Data and the IoT will make it impossible for people to accurately process enough data to keep up. Humans would become the limiting factor. Thus, RPA doesn’t eliminate jobs – it makes new areas of work possible.

These people will be freed up for advanced training and, ultimately, more challenging jobs. “For every task that a machine automates, a human is elevated to a new, more complex task,” Devine wrote in response to emailed questions from IT Business Edge. “By redistributing repetitive tasks to robots – even those that can’t be scripted with rules – companies can use their human capital for tasks that really need human intelligence. This promotes capacity and competitive advantage within a company thanks to cost reduction and speed gains (robotics complete these tasks faster, and with fewer errors). This means more jobs, deeper skill sets, improved productivity, and the chance for humans to put their creative power toward future innovation.”

While a technology that starts by reducing the work force seems threatening, the end result could be to free people from mental drudgery. “We should embrace the technology of automation as not only a digital revolution, but also an intellectual revolution where we allow robots to take over repetitive, boring tasks and move forward to more challenging roles that involve problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity that will deliver more value to our work and even enrich our lives,” he wrote.

Francine Haliva, the head of marketing for Kryon Systems, listed dozens of new work titles that RPA will make possible. She added that there are different levels of RPA technologies. Some run on virtual machines and are more or less self-contained. Others are deployed on the employees’ desktops to support work that he or she is doing. “With ‘attended’ automation, human workers can trigger automation processes right from their desktop, at the time of need,” she wrote. “This dramatically cuts time to proficiency for anyone operating new applications or software release, reduces errors, increases productivity and improves job satisfaction.”

Schatsky agrees that the idea of RPA may be freeing. “Over time, we may see people’s jobs evolve, from interacting with systems in routine ways to performing tasks that require more judgement and flexibility,” he wrote. “But we haven’t seen large-scale job losses associated with RPA so far. Automation often, but not always, evolves, changing people’s jobs, rather than entirely eliminating jobs.”

Whatever the details are, RPA as a category is expanding rapidly.

“From our vantage point, it’s exploding,” wrote Symphony Ventures’ Barkin. “All major enterprises are now asking the question, ‘Can we automate this?’ first, rather than ‘Can we centralize, nearshore, offshore, outsource, etc.?’ That has happened only in the last two years. 2017 is going to be a frantic race for all enterprises to prove that transformation is going digital in meaningful and impactful ways.”

Source: Process Automation Takes on the Data Challenge

The hidden figures behind automation

The current job description of an accounts payable clerk will disappear in possibly as little as 20 years. This may seem bleak, but the reality is that software advances, developments in robotics, AI and machine learning are bringing a new age of automation — one in which machines will be able to outperform humans in various work tasks.

According to McKinsey Global institute’s January 2017 report on the future of automation, nearly half of the activities that people are paid to do in the global economy can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology. Activities most susceptible to this automation are repetitive, non-creative tasks such as data collection and processing. This puts at risk many jobs in customer service, sales, invoicing, account management and other data entry positions, not the least of which includes AP clerks.

However, these projections don’t necessarily mean that the future is hopeless for those holding AP positions. In McKinsey’s words, “People will need to continue working alongside machines to produce the growth in per capita GDP to which countries around the world aspire.”

Skilled employees will work alongside software automation and RPA (robotic process automation) to approve data analyzation, guide software in the right direction and even perform tasks that we may not know exist yet. This will require some new skills-based learning, but it is also an opportunity for AP department employees to step out from behind the curtain, develop their job descriptions and have more interesting and meaningful jobs. Employees will be able to focus on raising their profile, supporting the business with more meaningful work, providing good internal service, and in turn, be more motivated.

Reckon this is wishful thinking? Think again. It’s been done before.

After all, the first “computers” wore skirts.
In the early decades of the 1900s, mathematical and technical calculations were made manually rather than by machine. This work required a large workforce to compute all the information. With the industrial boom brought on by WWII, organizations like NASA began recruiting women for this work, who they called “computers.” It has even been said that “the first computers wore skirts.”

Eventually, as the machines we know today as computers began to develop, many of these manual tasks were automated. Rather than discarding the women that had previously done this job, NASA and other organizations simply retrained employees to work alongside these machines and perform less menial tasks. This conscious step allowed the women who had been the quiet backbone of the organization to make themselves and their work known.

One example recently made popular by the book and award-winning film Hidden Figures is that of African-American physicist and mathematician Katherine Johnson and her team. Johnson worked as a “computer” on NASA’s early team from 1953-1958, where she analyzed topics such as gust alleviation for aircrafts. When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s first orbit around the earth, officials asked Johnson to verify the computer’s numbers and her reputation for accuracy helped establish confidence in the new technology. Johnson herself went on to use these new computers to aid in calculations until her retirement in 1986. Similarly, the value of AP clerks and other accounting professionals will shift as they become valuable as human analysts and strategists, vital in the role of validating a machine’s processes.

These kinds of shifts can be seen throughout history, like in the move away from agriculture and decreases in manufacturing share of employment in the United States, both of which were accompanied by the creation of new types of work not foreseen at the time.

We can expect a similar response to automation in the accounts payable department. As AP software becomes more advanced, clerks and controllers will evolve to work with it, not be replaced by it. The important work of AP clerks will no longer be in the shadows. The job will be transformed from “paper pusher” to vital business asset.

Source: hidden figures behind automation

How to supercharge robotic process automation

Enterprises across industries have deployed RPA with cognitive technologies to automate routine business processes such as fulfilling purchase orders. (Image: Deloitte)

Robotic process automation (RPA), technology that lets software robots replicate the actions of human workers for routine tasks such as data entry, is altering the way organizations handle many of their key business and IT processes.

Advances in automation and robotics are putting a lot of jobs at risk. Here are ten jobs first in line for the robot takeover.


When RPA is used in conjunction with cognitive technologies, its capabilities can be significantly expanded.

“The integration of cognitive technologies with RPA makes it possible to extend automation to processes that require perception or judgment,” said David Schatsky, managing director at consulting firm Deloitte.

“With the addition of natural language processing, chatbot technology, speech recognition, and computer vision technology, for instance, bots can extract and structure information from speech audio, text, or images and pass that structured information to the next step of the process,” Schatsky said.

In another example Schatsky cited, machine learning can identify patterns and make predictions about process outcomes, helping RPA prioritize actions. “Cognitive RPA has the potential to go beyond basic automation to deliver business outcomes such as greater customer satisfaction, lower churn, and increased revenues,” he said.

In a report Schatsky authored in 2016, called “Robotic Process Automation: A Path to the Cognitive Enterprise,” he noted that enterprises are beginning to employ RPA together with cognitive technologies such as speech recognition, natural language processing, and machine learning to automate perceptual and judgment-based tasks once reserved for humans.

The integration of cognitive technologies and RPA is extending automation to new areas and can help companies become more efficient and agile as they move down the path of becoming fully digital businesses, the report said.

Processes that require human judgment within complex scenarios, such as complex claims processing, can’t be automated through RPA alone, the report noted. It cited one RPA vendor as saying even its most mature clients automate at most 50 percent of back-office processes, and the majority of clients automate far fewer.

Cognitive RPA has the potential to go beyond basic automation to provide business outcomes such as enhanced customer satisfaction, lower churn, and increased revenues, the report said.

The Deloitte report provided an example of a leading global bank that used cognitive RPA to automate 57 percent of its payments work in the highly regulated area of foreign trade finance.

The challenges of automating this process end-to-end included: the need to work with highly unstructured data such as invoices, bills, declarations, certificates, and letters; a high daily volume of transactions that needed same-day processing; and the need to interface with multiple core systems. The solution combined traditional RPA techniques with several cognitive technologies to automate most steps in the process.

Leading RPA vendors are incorporating cognitive technologies into their offerings, and large RPA providers are partnering with vendors of cognitive technologies. For example, Blue Prism and IBM Watson have partnered to bring cognitive capabilities to customers.

Enterprises across industries such as banking, insurance, and transportation have deployed RPA with cognitive technologies to automate routine business processes such as fulfilling purchase orders and new hire on-boarding, the report said.

Source: ZDNet-How to supercharge robotic process automation

The optimist’s guide to the robot apocalypse

Machines, you may have heard, are coming for all the jobs.

Robots flip burgers and work warehouses. Artificial intelligence handles insurance claims and basic bookkeeping, manages investment portfolios, does legal research, and performs basic HR tasks. Human labor doesn’t stand a chance against them—after the “automation apocalypse,” only those with spectacular abilities and the owners of the robots will thrive.

Or at least, that’s one plausible and completely valid theory. But before you start campaigning for a universal basic income and set up a bunker, you might want to also familiarize yourself with the competing theory: In the long run, we’re going to be just fine.

We’ve been here before

Our modern fear that robots will steal all the jobs fits a classic script. Nearly 500 years ago, Queen Elizabeth I cited the same fear when she denied an English inventor named William Lee a patent for an automated knitting contraption. “I have too much regard for the poor women and unprotected young maidens who obtain their daily bread by knitting to forward an invention which, by depriving them of employment, would reduce them to starvation,” she told Lee, according to one account of the incident. The lack of patent didn’t ultimately stop factories from adopting the machine.

Two hundred years later, Lee’s invention, still being vilified as a jobs killer, was among the machines destroyed by protestors during the Luddite movement in Britain. More than 100 hundred years after that, though computers had replaced knitting machines as the latest threat to jobs, the fear of technology’s impact on employment was the same. A group of high-profile economists warned President Lyndon Johnson of a “cybernation revolution” that would result in massive unemployment. Johnson’s labor secretary had recently commented that new machines had “skills equivalent to a high school diploma” (though then, and now, machines have trouble doing simple things like recognizing objects in photos or packing a box), and the economists were worried that machines would soon take over service industry jobs. Their recommendation: a universal basic income, in which the government pays everyone a low salary to put a floor on poverty.

Today’s version of this scenario isn’t much different. This time, we’re warned of the “Rise of Robots” and the “End of Work.” Thought leaders such as Elon Musk have once again turned to a universal basic income as a possible response.

But widespread unemployment due to technology has never materialized before. Why, argue the optimists, should this time be any different?

Automating a job can result in more of those jobs

Though Queen Elizabeth I had feared for jobs when she denied Lee’s patent, weaving technology ended up creating more jobs for weavers. By the end of the 19th century, there were four times as many factory weavers as there had been in 1830, according James Bessen, the author of Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth.

Each human could make more than 20 times the amount of cloth that she could have 100 years earlier. So how could more textile workers be needed?

According to the optimist’s viewpoint, a factory that saves money on labor through automation will either:

  1. Lower prices, which makes its products more appealing and creates an increased demand that may lead to the need for more workers.
  2. Generate more profit or pay higher wages. That may lead to increased investment or increased consumption, which can also lead to more production, and thus, more employment.

Amazon offers a more modern example of this phenomena. The company has over the last three years increased the number of robots working in its warehouses from 1,400 to 45,000. Over the same period, the rate at which it hires workers hasn’t changed.

The optimist’s take on this trend is that robots help Amazon keep prices low, which means people buy more stuff, which means the company needs more people to man its warehouses even though it needs fewer human hours of labor per package. Bruce Welty, the founder of a fulfillment company that ships more than $1 billion of ecommerce orders each year and another company called Locus Robotics that sells warehouse robots, says he thinks the threat to jobs from the latter is overblown—especially as the rise of ecommerce creates more demand for warehouse workers. His fulfillment company has 200 job openings at its warehouse.

A handful of modern studies have noted that there’s often a positive relationship between new technology and increasing employment—in manufacturing firms, across all sectors, and specifically in firms that adopted computers.

How automation impacts wages is a separate question. Warehouse jobs, for instance, have a reputation as grueling and low-paying. Will automation make them better or worse? In the case of the loom workers, wages went up when parts of their jobs became automated. According to Bessen, by the end of the 19th century, weavers at the famous Lowell factory earned more than twice what they earned per hour in 1830. That’s because a labor market had built up around the new skill (working the machines) and employers competed for skilled labor.

That, of course, is not the only option, but it is an outcome embraced by the optimist crowd. Similarly positive results of automation: If companies can make more money with the same number of workers, they can theoretically pay those workers better. If the price of goods drops, those workers can buy more without a raise.

As automation kills some jobs, it creates others

As the Industrial Revolution ended, about half of American workers were still employed in agriculture jobs, and almost all of those jobs were about to be lost to machines.

If nothing else had changed, the decrease in agriculture jobs could have led to a largely unemployed society. But that’s not what happened. Instead, as agricultural employment dwindled to less than 2% of American workers, jobs in other sectors grew during the same period. They involved working in factories, yes, but also working with computers, flying airplanes, and driving cargo across the country—occupations that weren’t feasible in 1900.

Today’s optimists believe that the latest automation technologies will create new jobs as well.

What kind of jobs, they really can’t say (this is where the optimism comes in handy). About a third of new jobs created in the United States over the past 25 years didn’t exist (or just barely existed) at the beginning of that period, and predicting what jobs might be created in the next 25 years is just guessing. In a report on artificial intelligence and the economy, the Obama White House suggested that automation might create jobs in supervising AI, repairing and maintaining new systems, and in reshaping infrastructure for developments like self-driving cars. But, the report’s authors note, “Predicting future job growth is extremely difficult, as it depends on technologies that do not exist today.”

Automation doesn’t necessarily make humans obsolete

In 2013, researchers at Oxford sparked fear of the robot revolution when they estimated that almost half of US occupations were likely to be automated. But three years later, McKinsey arrived at a very different number. After analyzing 830 occupations, it concluded that just 5% of them could be completely automated.

The two studies obviously counted differently. The Oxford researchers assessed the probability that occupations would be fully automated within a decade or two. But automation is more likely to replace part of a job than an entire job. When Amazon installs warehouse robots, they currently don’t replace full workers, but rather, the part of the job that involves fetching products from different shelves. Similarly, when my colleague used artificial intelligence to transcribe an interview, we didn’t fire him; he just worked on the other parts of his job. McKinsey’s researchers’ model didn’t attempt to sort jobs into “replaceable” and “not replaceable,” but rather to place them on a spectrum of automation potential.

Almost every occupation that McKinsey looked at had some aspect that could be automated. Even 25% of tasks inside of a CEO job, the analysis found, could be automated. But very few jobs could be entirely automated.

McKinsey’s conclusion was not that machines will take all of these jobs, but rather, “more occupations will change than will be automated away.” Our CEO, for example, won’t spend time analyzing reports if artificial intelligence can draw conclusions more efficiently, so he can spend more time coaching his team.

This part of the optimist’s theory argues that if humans aren’t bogged down by routine tasks, they will find something better to do. The weavers will learn the new job of operating the machines. My coworker will write more articles because he’s not transcribing interviews. The warehouse workers will each pack more boxes because they’re not running between shelves collecting each item to be packed.

“Any time in history we’ve seen automation occur, people don’t all of the sudden stop being creative and wanting to do interesting new things,” says Aaron Levie, the CEO of enterprise software company Box and an automation optimist. “We just don’t do a lot of the redundant, obsolete work.” He points to potential examples like automatically scheduled calendar appointments or automated research services. “Why won’t we make up that time with doing the next set of activities that we would have been doing?” he says. “What I think it does is make the world move faster.”

What might that look like? Sodexo’s CEO of corporate services, Sylvia Metayer, offers one example. She says the outsourcing company’s building maintenance crew has started using drones to survey roofs for maintenance needs in three locations. Before the drones arrived, a human climbed onto the roof to check things out. Now, that human stays on the ground, which is safer. “The service hasn’t changed, the clients still need someone to help maintain the roof,” she says. “If we do it with drones, the people who would have been going up on the roof have more value, talking with clients about what needs to be done.”

Examples also exist in back office automation. “From what we’ve actually seen on the ground, in real business operations, we’ve seen almost zero job loss,” says Alastair Bathgate, CEO of Blue Prism, a software company that helps automate tasks within customer service, accounting, and other jobs. One of his clients, a bank, trained the automation software to react when a customer overdrew an account by checking to see if there were a balance in another account that could be transferred to cover it. This was a process that had never been done by humans, because it would be too tedious and expensive. Another bank used the software to allow customer service representatives to direct customers who had a credit card stolen to an automated system that would input their information and close the account. What do they do now? “It allows them to take another call,” Bathgate says. On-hold time, not head count, went down.

We may need automation

As the birthrate in many countries declines, the share of the working age population will shrink. To maintain today’s GDP, those workers will each need to be more productive than workers today, and they’ll need to improve at a faster rate than they have in the past. Even if productivity continued to improve at the same rate that it has throughout the last 50 years—within which the computer and the internet both became mainstream tools—it wouldn’t be enough of an improvement to sustain GDP. Automation technology could be the answer. According to a McKinsey analysis, it could raise global productivity by as much as 0.8% to 1.4% annually—but only if humans keep working, as well.

Being an automation optimist doesn’t mean ignoring jobs lost to automation

The Industrial Revolution eventually led to an unprecedented high standard of living for ordinary workers.

But this prosperity didn’t immediately materialize. There was a period in which life inside of factories was miserable for the laboring class. It included paltry wages, terrible working conditions, and child labor.

Today, during what the World Economic Forum has dubbed the “fourth industrial revolution,” even optimists expect short-term labor displacement, wage depression, and, for some workers, pain. To take just one sector, the Obama White House estimated that nearly 3.1 million people could lose their job to the autonomous car. New jobs in other sectors could be created as these jobs disappear, but the people who are losing driving jobs won’t necessarily have the skills to fill the new ones. This is a big deal.

What separates the optimists from the pessimists is that they tend to believe that the economy as a whole will recover from this short-term adjustment period.

Pessimists argue that not everyone will benefit from this industrial revolution in the same way that the standard of living for ordinary workers rose after the last industrial revolution. Over the last two decades, most gains in productivity have gone to the owners of businesses rather than people who work for them. Global inequality has for the last several decades soared.

But there’s a lot of stuff going on outside of technological developments, argue the automation optimists, like the decline of unions, weakening of labor laws, tax laws that benefit rich people, and education policies that haven’t adapted to a changing world—these are policy problems, and we should fix them rather than blaming technology.

There is, however, one point that cannot be easily brushed aside. Pessimists point to the pace of innovation as a reason that, this time, advances in technology will impact jobs more brutally than they have in the past. “In the past, when you had disruption, the economy adjusted and jobs were created elsewhere,” says Ethan Pollack, an economist at the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative who says he wavers between optimism and pessimism on automation. “What happens if [in the near future], each period of disruption comes so quickly, that it never recovers?”

So who is right?

“There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,” Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently mused at the World Government Summit in Dubai, before suggesting that a universal basic income would be necessary. But even as he talked of the threat to jobs, he also spoke of positive impacts of automation technology. “With automation, there will come abundance,” he said. “Almost everything will get very cheap.”

The optimism camp tends to have similarly mixed feelings about automation’s impact. “AI can seem dystopian,” tweeted Box CEO Levie, “because it’s easier to describe existing jobs disappearing than to imagine industries that never existed appearing.” He doesn’t deny that automated technology will make some labor obsolete—he just focuses on the long-term, big-picture opportunity for potential benefits.

Both sides generally agree that there should be measures in place to reduce the impact of labor displacement from automation, like education programs for re-skilling workers who will lose their jobs. One side just tends to have a more darker view of what happens after that.

So which side is right? If history is any guide, both.

In the 1930s, economist John Maynard Keynes famously coined the term “technological unemployment.” Less famous is the argument he was making at the time. His case wasn’t that impending technology doomed society to prolonged massive unemployment, but rather that a reaction to new technology should neither assume the end of the world or refuse to recognize that world had changed. From his essay, Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren:

The prevailing world depression, the enormous anomaly of unemployment in a world full of wants, the disastrous mistakes we have made, blind us to what is going on under the surface to the true interpretation, of the trend of things. For I predict that both of the two opposed errors of pessimism which now make so much noise in the world will be proved wrong in our own time-the pessimism of the revolutionaries who think that things are so bad that nothing can save us but violent change, and the pessimism of the reactionaries who consider the balance of our economic and social life so precarious that we must risk no experiments.

The Obama White House, in a report about how automation may impact jobs, recommended responding to automation by investing in education; creating training programs for workers, like drivers, who will be displaced by automation technology; and strengthening the social safety net. Bill Gates has suggested that we tax robots’ productivity similar to how we tax humans’ income in order to finance retraining programs and jobs for which humans are well-suited, like care-taking. Others have suggested wage subsidies and direct government employment programs. These proposed solutions are not so dissimilar to those provided to President Johnson in 1964, which included “a massive program to build up our educational system” and “a major revision of our tax structure.”

Even so, little progress has been made since then in making the US more resilient to job displacement caused by automation. The cost of college education has never been higher. As a society, the US has not shown a commitment in building effective, equal-opportunity re-skilling programs. Inequality continues to increase. And the Trump Administration has so far focused on preventing companies from hiring people into manufacturing jobs overseas rather than preparing the economy for the impact of automation. This is an insufficient approach.

As MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee put it more recently than Keynes in their 2014 book about automation’s economic impact, The Second Machine Age: “Our generation has inherited more opportunities to transform the world than any other. That’s a cause for optimism, but only if we’re mindful of our choices.”

Source: Quartz-The optimist’s guide to the robot apocalypse