What We’re Reading – Robots on the Job

What We're Reading - Robots on the Job

What We're Reading - Robots on the Job

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Robots are becoming a bigger part of our work and personal lives, accompanied by the gain and pain that comes with any technology disruption.  Here's what we've been reading on this important and fascinating topic.

My earliest recollection of robots is from watching Lost in Space in the early 70's.  Although I could not predict that the cool orange and green kitchens of the day would not make it into the future, I certainly knew the overly campy Robot B-9 from orange and green kitchens of the day would not make it into the future,

I certainly knew the overly campy Robot B-9 from the TV show couldn't possibly the robots of our future- they just weren't cool. Fortunately for us though, robots have gotten cooler- at least those shown on the big screen.

Today's celluloid robots, like those shown in Ex Machina (oppressed by humans, but not for long), Blade Runner (oppressed by humans who ultimately question the oppression) and the TV show Humans (still just oppressed), show how cool robots can be (albeit, a little depressing at times). But that's just the stuff of Hollywood.

In the real world of today, the humanoid-type robots we see in our daily lives are much more likely to resemble our old friend Robot B-9 in appearance. And while they're currently a bit more clumsy, "robotic" and less intelligent than the mechanical co-star of Lost in Space, they are certainly more cool than he was.  


Non-humanoid robots on the other hand, particularly those imbued with artificial intelligence, have been steadily improving.  So much so that they're becoming a larger part of our everyday lives. My colleague, Chris, recently shared a post about new research from the McKinsey Global Institute which found that 45% of daily activities done at work, across the board, could be automated with today's technologies.  Yes, that's today'stechnologies. And, while the economics of this automation may not fully be here yet, if technology advancements are anything like that shown in Hollywood, they soon will be.

Here are some of the other items we're reading on Robotics - the economics, on-the-job examples and one area where surprisingly, humans still seem to be holding their own. 

The Economics

This article from the Daily Telegraph is a bit bleak, but the shift of automation costs continuing to trend down below the cost of labor, is a fact.  Whether or not the replaced labor will find other opportunities will only be answered in the future. On the other hand, this report from Morgan Stanley sees a major demographic trend that makes robots seem to be a necessity- the future decline of population and specifically, working age population.

In All The President's Men, the character of Deep Throat, told Bob Woodward (played by Robert Redford) to "follow the money". Same advice applies to Robotics.  This NY Times article highlights the investments by both venture capitalists tech giants such as Google and Facebook moving away from the Social Media bandwagon onto the AI/Robotics bandwagon.  

On the Job

The auto industry has been applying automation/robotics for quite a long time. Even the assembly line from the 1930's is quite impressive.  Today's auto manufacturer, like BMW, is even more automated as shown in the amazing video below.


With the growth of ecommerce and the resultant need for lower cost, reliable delivery for the "last mile", robots are envisioned as a possible solution.  This article and video from Tech Crunch focuses on wheeled robots rather than the drones Amazon is testing.

Speaking of Amazon, the king of ecommerce, they are working on automation throughout their distribution process. With the acquisition of Kiva Systems, now renamed Amazon Robotics, they have added robots to move goods to their human pickers rather than the other way around or by using space consuming conveyors resulting in increased productivity but also dramatically increased and improved utilization of space. The next phase is to automate the picking part of the process highlighted in this article about a contest featuring robots identifying, picking and placing items in a designated 

One workplace you may be surprised to see robots would be an NFL practice field introduced in this ESPN storyThe MVP (Mobile Virtual Player) is used for practices to give players rest as well as reduce practice injuries.  It's just in it's infancy and controlled by remote rather than on its own. Perhaps the AI will be added in a few years.


Whoa, Robots! Not So Fast!

Music streaming is replacing digital downloads... which replaced CDs... which replaced cassettes... which replaced vinyl albums. We only need to experience the music when we want- there's really no need to own it.  As a result when we use a service like Spotify, we have tens of millions of songs available to us. We humans need choices to be happy, but as it turns out, after a certain number of choices, we feel less happy. This discontent we feel due to an overwhelming amount of choices is something psychologist, Barry Schwartz, named the paradox of choice. To help us with this paradox, music streaming services are developing playlists based on moods, activities and any other theme you can think of. This article from BuzzFeed writes about how all the streaming services use human curators to get these playlists just right, to the point where some of them now have millions of listeners.  Although they use computer driven data to help them, they're still relying on an aspect of humanity that artificial intelligence has yet to conquer- empathy and a connection to music.

We can't always be as productive as robots, but optimizing your output in today's digitizing business environment has never been more important, and it starts with understanding the value of the tasks you're performing. Download the free Task Evaluator tool and start increasing your productivity on the high-value goals of the business. 

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