Thursday, July 06, 2017

Your robot will serve you now

There are a lot of concerns about the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotics in regards to creating and especially destroying jobs.  When you read that many fast food and other basic service organizations are experimenting with replacing human workers with robots, you can begin to see the emerging problem.  In the past, many new or young workers gained skills and job experience in low wage, low cost service industries like fast food or retail.  If Amazon popularizes the concept of a retail establishment without cashiers, or McDonald's can fully automate its cooking, food delivery and checkout process, thousands of low wage, ideally entry level jobs will be eliminated.  This is all part of Schumpeter's creative destruction paradigm:  innovation creates new opportunities while destroying or disrupting existing markets and models.

The Implications

There are several implications from this rapid advancement of AI and robotics.  The first, as I've described above, is that many jobs will be eliminated.  This is good in some respects because they are menial, low wage or dangerous.  However, many of them were often entry positions that allowed people to gain skills and establish a work history, which allowed them to move on into positions with more responsibility.

On the other hand, until AI and robots can maintain, repair and upgrade themselves, the emergence of robots and AI into our lives creates new opportunities, for software development, better articulation and fine motor control for robots, maintenance of the robots and so on.  These jobs will pay more and require higher order skills than the jobs they replaced, so we better understand how to prepare people to do this work, which will very soon be in high demand.

There's a third implication I'm interested in exploring, which is that as the use of AI and robotics increases, the cost of robotics and AI will fall dramatically.  And that means that many of us may find a new helper in our lives.

Robots and AI as in-home or in-office solutions

Here's where there's a real opportunity for innovation.  As the use of robotics and AI increases, the price and breadth of services AI and robotics can offer will increase.  We are seeing the very first signs of this from Amazon and Google with their in-home devices that allow us to use natural language to request assistance from virtual assistants. This of course is simply the very thin edge of the wedge, however, because most of the interaction is question and answer, with the human then acting on the information.  As the AI gets more embedded into systems in the home and at work, the AI and/or integrated robots will take the actions, leaving humans free to do more (or take more leisure I guess).  Figuring out how to integrate smart assistants with networks and autonomous robots that can then take action (Siri:  please ask the Dyson to vacuum the downstairs hallway) is the next step but a difficult one, because many of the appliances we have aren't smart enough to be directed or guided by themselves even with very smart AI.

Robots, especially robots made for specific uses, can also provide a real lifestyle change.  If Roomba can vacuum your house then how long before Mowerba comes along to mow your grass, automatically and based on growing conditions?  I think we'll see a plethora of single purpose robots not connected to a central AI or hub just yet, while eventually we'll see robots that are more capable of doing more diverse tasks (but that are much more complicated).

Integration and Customer Experience

The two biggest innovation challenges then aren't creating the robots or the AI.  These to a great extent exist.  What's important is figuring out how to integrate these and other devices so that they work together seamlessly.  How does an AI operate a vacuum cleaner or even schedule it, for example.  Integration and shared platforms or standards will become important and there is a huge innovation opportunity here.

The other aspect will be completely overlooked by most technology companies, but it's just as vital.  The customer experience of these solutions will also matter.  If you are watching TV and your robot gets you a drink, what's the customer experience you want to have?  Will robots have appropriate bedside manner for the bedridden patients they are asked to care for?  The technologists that design and built AI and robots will want to prove these devices work efficiently.  The consumers using the devices will want a warm, empathetic, engaging experience.  There's room for innovators in that gap. While we'll understand the use of robots and other automated devices in our food service and health care, we'll still want and expect a level of interaction and experience that must be designed in.  Customer experience is still paramount, no matter who or what delivers the service, and getting this right is a real innovation opportunity.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:10 AM


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