Notes From the Field

Since the emergence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, there have, understandably, been many questions raised about the potential negative consequences of adopting these technologies. As part of modern-day automation, however, these are simply tools to improve efficiency, which is something we’ve been doing for thousands of years. 

I am a huge fan of automation for the same reason that I’m a huge fan of the robot vacuum cleaner: given the choice, I’d rather be walking the dog than vacuuming. In fact, I’d rather be doing one thousand things instead of vacuuming. I’d rather be reading a book than hand-washing dishes or clothes, so I’m grateful for dishwashers and washing machines. I’d rather send an email than handwrite a letter and I’d rather pass through an electronic bridge toll than have a human in a toll booth inhaling hideously poisonous exhaust fumes while collecting our coins. 

The other reason I’m such an advocate of automation, especially in the workplace, is that it helps maximise human potential. It is a waste of brainpower to have intelligent people performing mundane manual tasks, such as data entry, when they have more to offer. These mind-numbingly boring tasks are well remedied by automation. Most of us would not choose to spend their working days manually sorting documents to determine their type and match invoices with purchase orders when it could quickly be done by a machine. Performing stimulating work that helps people grow professionally is something that generation-next expects. They simply don’t want to work for companies that have outdated, clunky software.

One of the other major benefits of automation for enterprises and governments is the cost-savings they can expect from an improvement in productivity. Why have ten people processing documents when software can automatically do the same job much faster and with fewer errors? Instead, free up those same people to do what humans do that machines can’t: connect, collaborate, communicate, create and imagine.

One of the authors of the IDC report, Artificial Intelligence-Based Automation Evolution Framework, Dan Vesset, says, “One of the key takeaways is that…a better understanding of AI’s potential as well as its limitations will help decision-makers to uncover opportunities to apply the best of today’s AI solutions to the automation of specific tasks and activities.

“…individuals and enterprises need to improve their AI literacy by understanding the level at which AI-enabled automation can result in benefits across a hierarchy of tasks, activities, processes, or systems,” Vesset added. 

I won’t miss driving when we all have driverless cars because I’ll spend that time working, talking with friends and family or dreaming up the next great business strategy. I won’t miss ironing or steaming clothes when we finally find a better way, mainly because I really hate these tasks but also because “I’d rather be sailing” as a bumper sticker once stated. 

Putting aside the personal benefits of automation, the business benefits aren’t really benefits anymore – they’re more like imperatives. If you’re a business that’s still spending $500,000 per year on manual document processing and your competitor has slashed that cost by half and freed up those people to focus on more customer-focused tasks, then guess who’s going to win that race for market share? Automation is a major competitive advantage and there are severe penalties for those businesses that don’t modernize their non-differentiating processes. 

From the horse-drawn cart to the electric car.

From the steamship to the airliner. 

From the pen to the keyboard.

Humans have always found faster and better ways to work and play and we’ll continue to do so well into the future. If carefully managed from an ethical, social and legal point of view, automating technologies are something to embrace, rather than fear. They help us spend more time being human and that’s something to celebrate – with a glass of bubbles of course – and I’ve never seen a robot do that. Cheers!