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Robotics and the Future of Work: What to Expect in The Coming Years

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By Jayakrishnan T, IEEE Senior Member

Over the past few decades, technology has changed the ways we live and work, one innovation at a time. With self-driving cars, intelligent digital agents, robots, and other tools advancing rapidly, it’s easy to overlook a simple fact: Computers have taken up a lot of human cognitive work in the 20th century. Now, they’re leveraging self-learning algorithms, pattern recognition and natural language processing to enable faster calculations and data processing.
With faster, more accurate data processing and the ability to automate repetitive tasks, AI and robotics help employees stay focused on creative solutions and complex problem solving, thus increasing efficiency. Minimal human intervention and rising automation have given rise to full-scale robotics in various industries. These technologies are equipped to compete in a fast-changing workspace environment and respond to constant changes that are hard to predict.

Robotics and trends forecast
The World Robotics Report 2021 Industrial Robots report shows a track record of three million industrial robots operating in factories around the world indicating an increase of 10% overall. By 2024, the report forecasts the placement of 518,000 industrial robots. Southeast Asian markets grew by double-digit rates in 2021. The report further explains that a post-crisis boom will create supplementary growth at low double-digit rates in 2022, and in the coming years. It’s safe to say that execution, management, and monitoring in the coming years will increasingly be done by intelligent machines together with human intervention, with superior results.

Rise of the digital workforce
Automated systems can detect inefficiencies that a human mind can skip unknowingly, while AI-driven systems help ensure no errors. As a result, there may be less demand for supervisory roles whose main goal is quality assurance and productivity management. These digitally driven systems also allow workers to have small breaks and more freedom from jobs have become more intense and stressful in current times. This is the most frequent feature of robotics and automation adoption: the augmentation of human effort, rather than the replacement of it. This practice paves the way for the most ideal situation – humans and robots working side by side, empowering and revolutionizing the whole spectrum of work. The fear that robots might come for the jobs, become the boss, stands invalid.

The digital workforce enables effective management of resources – various industries leverage AI-driven solutions to address the unavailability of human resources and drive enhanced customer service. One example we see frequently: a new service model that integrates robotics and automation with e-commerce to provide more personalized services.

In the post-pandemic world, the demand for robots is only going to increase. But that demand will not subside once the effects of the pandemic are absorbed in the broader economy. The digital spaces iterate innovation by facilitating an easy and comprehensive understanding of shortcomings and providing corrective measures. Digital space also reduces risk by effectively addressing any unexpected threats to safety and security, as it did in the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistically, 48% of experts envision a future inclusive of robots and digital agents that would play a significant role for both blue- and white-collar workers.

Challenges in digital workforce transformation
Automated management starts with the workflow and uses certain algorithms to ensure superior results. However, a few challenges limit the effectiveness of the digital workforce and ongoing transformation, such as:
• Lack of expertise to lead digitization initiatives
• Lack of overall digitization strategy
• Unstructured infrastructural changes
• Limited budget on the initial investment
• Issues in human-digital workflow integration
• Difficulty of the human workforce to adapt and internalize the digital processes

Hence, there is a strong need to adapt and repurpose the strategies as per the changing demands of the market and workspace to ensure inter-sector adaptability. Contrary to popular belief, robots are not going to replace human workers, but many jobs may be significantly reimagined to ensure that they fit well within automated workflows. The data from a 2021 report by World Economic Forum reflects that increased automation and the use of AI, ML will lead to more hiring in most sectors while ensuring standardization of processes.

Integrating into Other Industries
With the rise of PC and mobile phone applications, automated call centres and other growing advancements like the Internet of Things (IoT), AI and robotics have already made their way into various business processes across segments, including healthcare, transport and logistics and customer service.

As we move forward into a more digitally connected world, it will be interesting to see how AI and robotics reshape workplaces globally.

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