Forward together: what’s next for interaction between human workers and bots?

Over half (52%) of consumers believe artificial intelligence (AI) has a positive effect on their lives, but there remains a lingering fear of how AI and bots will impact jobs and employment figures long term. In general, people expect AI and bots to continue to be targeted towards efficiencies in the workplace but also at improving many areas of home and personal life. What will human-technology co-evolution look like in the next few years?

When thinking about getting employees engaged in the workplace to make them more productive and more satisfied in their jobs, I find my thoughts extending to the evolution of interaction between human workers and bots and how they are going to work together effectively. It’s something that will only grow in the future, so if it’s inevitable, how do we make sure we collaborate with machines in the most beneficial ways? And if we’re collaborating with machines, how can that help me be more engaged with my company? Is it faster access to information to help me do my job better? Is it just freeing up my time to do other tasks? Or is it something else?

Can bots and human workers work together successfully?

AI has inspired all kinds of forecasts, some more optimistic than others. The fear that AI could simply replace the work performed by humans and eliminate jobs remains a continuous factor in them. However, successful applications of chatbots, particularly in contact centers, have so far demonstrated that the way to deliver the best customer experience for consumers is by combining humans and chatbots. So perhaps that philosophy can be expanded to the wider work world.

Various world and business leaders have put forward this point of view: Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, has said he believes AI will create new jobs and give employees the opportunity to develop new skills. Former U.S. President Barack Obama has also stated his belief that technology will deliver an overall improvement in skills and living standards for people. Gartner agrees and has predicted that by 2020, AI will help create 500,000 jobs. There’s a name for them now, jobs that are performed by technology and human workers in harmony: they are called “no collar” jobs.

It’s a key issue, and I find it is important to remember that bots are not intended to simply replace humans, as humans are the only actors currently able to analyze complex situations. So we need to concentrate on how humans and bots can work in complementary ways: bots and Augmented Intelligence are able to handle big numbers of repetitive tasks, like tracking orders or managing accounts, giving human workers space to focus on tasks with high added value, like pre-sales or after-sales service. Combining the strengths of the two can deliver exponentially improved results and value to your company.

How could this collaboration work?

There are already examples of how humans, bots and AI can work together in harmony in the real world. Amazon has deployed robots in its warehouses and says it frees up human workers to operate in more complex roles and positions: for example, workers who previously had to stack crates are now overseers of the robotic arms that perform the stacking. The worker is released from repetitive, potentially risky physical labor and has a new skill in operating state-of-the-art machines.

Focus on achievable results

I think it helps to concentrate on achievable use cases that blend human workers with AI and bots at this point, and that really means using a proven example such as a contact center. If a contact center agent is processing requests from customers and needs to access information quickly or needs to produce responses to requests, they can rely on AI to do it at this point, quickly and effectively.

Marrying that technology role to your human workforce is the balancing act, though: in contact centers, there is traditionally high employee churn, because work is quite often repetitive and boring. But if you use machine assistants to take that repetitive work away from humans, people’s work can become higher value, they consequently have more of a sense of worth and they learn new skills, and that in turn drives higher levels of work satisfaction. The result should be reduced churn, which also reduces operating costs for replacing and recruiting new staff, training them and so on. You are in effect optimizing your contact center workforce.

A collaborative future

PwC predicts that robotics, AI and smart automation have the potential to contribute more than $15 trillion towards the global gross domestic product by 2030, which in theory could mean generating demand for more jobs. It’s my belief that while there will be more robots and automation in use in workplaces, robots won’t eliminate the need for a human touch. Jobs like customer support, health care and education will go on being valued for their role in building trust with people and helping them meet complex objectives.

Robots can’t easily replicate empathy and people skills, but we can collaborate together – as evidenced by collaborative industrial robots that already work safely alongside humans in factories without the need to be behind a cage. The collaboration between humans and AI-based systems has the potential to make companies more efficient, more productive and ultimately more profitable.

Orange has the expertise to help you make that shift thanks to our consulting expertise and our ecosystem of start-ups and partners. With the right guidance, humans and machines can complement each other and drive greater overall productivity: collaboration between human and automated workers could increase revenues by 38% percent by 2022 according to Accenture Research, and over 61% of business leaders agree that human and machine collaboration is going to help them achieve their strategic priorities faster and more efficiently.

Orange can help you enhance your company’s operations through collaboration between your human workers and AI tools, leveraging the power of machines and bots to give your customers an enriched experience.

For more information, find out how smarter data management can help you achieve AI-enabled business success, read our blog Customer-centric: AI, analytics and automation in the contact center, and watch this video to learn more about creating AI-powered journeys that benefit both employees and customers.

Stephane Minana

Stephane is a Unified Communications Solution Director covering solution positioning, business development and go-to-market strategies for the European theater. He has extensive knowledge of many facets of the IT industry through his experience working for consulting firms, vendors and IT and telecom service providers.

Stephane has been with Orange Business Services in Amsterdam since 2008 and has engaged in several service incubation and business development programs for security, consulting, enterprise application management, and in the last three years, unified communications.