Artificial intelligence and robotics no longer belong to a post-apocalyptic future. The future is now; we’ve already accepted technology as part of our daily interactions with businesses. After all, we’ve probably all used a self-serve checkout at a supermarket, slightly infuriating though they may be.
And robots are infiltrating other areas of business, from manufacturing and customer service to logistics and healthcare. So, how are AI and robotics helping businesses and individuals to create a sustainable and efficient future?
Here are some reasons to be excited.
The end of supply chain ethics qualms?
Whether it’s the Fashion Revolution in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy or the UK introducing the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, it is fair to say that ethics in the supply chain is hot on the agenda right now. So, could there be a more efficient and ethical alternative to employing low-paid workers? Well, robots don’t need lunch breaks or limits on the number of hours they’ve clocked in any given week. A comprehensive corporate wellness program won’t dictate their efficiency.
So potentially, the ultimate goal for FoxConn – the Taiwanese firm manufacturing iPhones for Apple – to fully automate manufacturing could be a welcome advancement. The aim is for 30% automation by 2020, with 40,000 FoxBots already deployed.
What about the humans put out of work, though? Well, take a look at Adidas, which is bringing production back to its German roots with a robotic manufacturing plant up and running in Ansbach. Its so-called Speed Factory is taking its products closer to those who will wear them. More imperatively, its using “best in class German engineering” – so perhaps layoffs will be offset by the creation of jobs elsewhere, in a new robot-building-and-maintaining future.
Taking delivery vans off the roads
Imagine answering the door to a robot, which has delivered your takeout, or having your burrito drop from the sky by a drone. Believe it or not, these scenarios are already a reality, and although there are some natural concerns (will the robots be stolen? How will they interact with pedestrians on the pavement?) Just Eat’s delivery bots, which are already on the streets of London, have met over 400,000 people without a single accident thanks to their sensors, cameras and other tech (the cameras presumably discouraging theft, too).
And the advantages are clear: helping to unclog congestion and reducing air pollution.
At this point, the pavement-sharing bots aren’t pinching jobs, but a useful surplus for peak times, where you can send a robot on its merry way when needed. Rest assured, human operators are keeping a beady eye on the bots and can take over at a moment’s notice.
And if there’s one thing that makes students happy, its burritos falling from the sky. Okay, the goods will be lowered on a winch – but trials were happening on the campus of Virginia Tech in the US last year, thanks to a partnership between the University, Google-parent Alphabet and restaurant chain Chipotle.
Meanwhile, Amazon can send packages by drone to customers in under half an hour. Think how many vehicles it would take off the road if drone delivery becomes the norm.
Hearing someone talking about squeezing those steps in is pretty common place now, when they’re wearing their Fitbit, that is. In fact, one in three people track their health or fitness using an app or wearable, according to research institute GfK. But in the past, fitness apps were more concerned with data collection than anything else.
Meet Under Armour: the US firm’s Record app is said to be a health consultant, fitness trainer and assistant rolled into one. “Coaching” is given for workouts, sleep, and nutrition, with a wealth of data based on people “like you.” As the world’s largest digital health and fitness community exceeding 160 million members, the data has got to be pretty robust, too. The implications for such intelligence is no longer being blindsided by a deadly disease in the doctor’s office, and ultimately moving the focus in healthcare from cure to prevention.
That said, there’s no robot than can emulate the human touch – from that doctor, for example. We are cognitively wired for human connection, and while its very apparent that bots will become a part of their lives, our humanness is still valuable in the 21st century.
Certainly, automation can compliment existing job roles. Perhaps if we’re freed from boring, monotonous tasks, we can focus on what we do best – empathizing, connecting and creating.