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Humanoids at Work by 2030

Laurie Padua

To review the original article click here 15th Aug 2017

Based on new (as yet unpublished) research by Alexander Mann Solutions almost 30% of senior leaders believe it is ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ likely that we will see humanoids in the workplace by 2030. Can this truly be reality at work? And what are the skills and expertise business leaders would need to be developing to enhance the potential of artificial intelligence? An intriguing look into the future.

A recent study by pwc found that artificial intelligence (ai) could add as much as $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 – that’s around the same output as China and India combined. Meanwhile, Alphabet director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has stated that machines will be smarter than us by 2029. However, according to the results of a survey of over 2,000 senior professionals by Alexander Mann Solutions, just one in four leaders (23%) believe we are preparing the next generation of professionals for the rise of AI.

The research also revealed that 69% of senior leaders believe it is ‘somewhat’ or very likely’ that we will see humanoids in the workplace by 2030. While this may have seemed a far-fetched prediction just a few short years ago, the rapid pace of innovation around robotics means that this is now a realistic expectation for the majority. Robots, in the form of technology capable of replicating human functions, are now commonplace across many areas of business, and most technology now includes some form of machine learning. The concept of ‘robots’ taking on complete roles is also gaining pace.

Asset management firm, Sanlam, for example, has launched an actively managed fund that involves zero human input and relies on sophisticated programmes which predict how markets will change based on analysis of immense quantities of historical data. Against this backdrop, the introduction of robots which have an appearance and character and resemble that of a human is a logical step forwards. Humanoid, Sawyer, can already be purchased for $29,000 to undertake factory work which once relied on humans’ manual dexterity and good eyesight. While Hanson Robotics recently unveiled its creations, Han and Sophia, which have been programmed to chitchat and banter with each other thanks to data pulled from movies and YouTube videos which is used to determine tone of voice and gestures.

While none of the clients we work with are yet at the stage where they are looking to create entire humanoid workforces, it is unsurprising that this is something that many are open to considering in the not too distant future. Japan's SoftBank  corporation recently produced what it claimed was the world's first humanoid robot that can communicate and read people's emotions, Pepper, which has censors to monitor what is going on around it to make "independent decisions".

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Elsewhere, India’s HDFC Bank, is using robots at its branches to assist customers while Toshiba’s Humanoid Robot, Aiko Chihira, can currently be found working at the information desk of a Tokyo department store. Amidst all of this change, the expectations of individuals who are responsible for procuring technology solutions for organisations are shifting. Many are keen to invest in AI solutions without fully considering the end goal or how it ties into wider business objectives, often because they do not want to miss the bandwagon. However, it is important that those with responsibility in this area understand the functionality of their current systems, and what that can help them to achieve, before chasing new solutions for the sake of doing so.

Today, the majority of sophisticated businesses are already benefitting from the power of AI, and according to Narrative Science, 62 per cent of all organisations will be using Artificial Intelligence by next year. What organisations must concentrate on now is ensuring they have the skills and expertise in place to maximise the potential that this new wave of technology offers.

While some naysayers enjoy prophesising about the end of the human workforce, the truth is that the rise of the robots is creating new types of work. It’s unusually common to see organisations immediately look externally for skills when they, in fact, have the potential talent already sat in the business. While there may be some reluctance to let staff go from managers or departments, upskilling existing talent to ensure the organisation is ahead of the curve when it comes to technological innovation is one way to really gain advantage over the competition. Cross training staff also has the added benefit of creating a more agile, efficient and collaborative workforce, as well as acting as a strong defence against ‘irreplaceable’ employees – particularly those with niche technical skills-sets. The limitations around the functionality of AI solutions are firmly set by the people who implement and operate them.

To maximise the benefits of AI technology, for example, businesses must gain a complete view of the customer and their interactions across both online and offline channels. Robots cannot do this alone – they must be pointed in the right direction so that a data hub capable of aggregating and processing figures from disparate sources can be created. Similarly, machines can only ‘learn’ once there are sufficient data points to draw on, while humans have the ability to spot trends based on smaller sample sizes coupled with external anecdotal knowledge. Robots are nothing without humans to guide them.

Business leaders seem to agree. According to data from Alexander Mann Solutions, one in five (18%) said that we should be developing IT skills to enhance the potential of AI while a similar number (22%) believe businesses should focus training and development initiatives on innovation. A third of senior leaders (36%) reported that we should be developing workforces with the skill of being adaptable to change. Organisations which do invest in these skills will not only reap the benefits now, but also future-proof their businesses against lightening-speed levels of technological progress. The majority of senior leaders (77%) are confident that AI will have a positive impact on the workplace. However, the success of intelligent solutions will always be dictated by the humans responsible for training and supervising the machines, humanoid or otherwise. 

For more expert insights into Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in talent, check out our webinar!

Our Robotics and Artificial Intelligence | Debugged and Demystified webinar with Laurie Padua, Director of Global Consulting Services and Andrew Wayland, Chief Technology Officer, shares experts insight into what exactly Robotics and AI are, and how they are shaking up the talent industry.

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