Most automation is not about intelligence, but ‘automated stupidity’

By Simon Shah, Chief Marketing Officer, Redwood Software

Humans is back on our screens for Series 2, prompting many a water cooler debate and philosophical question over the blurring line between humans and technology. When does AI become sentient, and what are the implications of this for our society and economy? It is set just far enough in the future to be exciting, but offers a seemingly parallel view of the present.

There’s no argument that it’s a thought-provoking concept, though this personification that we have allowed to evolve around robotics is one of the reasons that there is so much resistance to robotics in an enterprise context. It’s a paranoia that’s hard to argue with, but we’re imagining the wrong thing - robot armies taking over the enterprise, rather than process enhancements to ‘take the robot out of the human’.

In all the excitement, AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are often bundled into the same sentence, without enough practical proof of their connection or even applicability. Right now, AI is being over-stated, at least in terms of its practical implementations in support services to date. The truth is that most of the automation we see today is not yet about intelligence, but ‘automated stupidity’. This doesn’t undermine the potential of RPA – quite the opposite. It offers the opportunity to automate the dull, repetitive, rule-based work so that humans are freed up to leverage their own intelligence, eliminating the costs, risks and wasted time associated with an over-reliance on manual labour.

The real wins of AI right now are in crunching and analysing large volumes of data to identify patterns for decision-makers. There’s the potential for this to connect with robots, but we’re not yet at the stage where we’d want robotic software to draw conclusions about financial data for example, and redesign itself without human intervention of governance.

What is starting to be very interesting on the other hand, is Intelligent Automation (IA). Developers are wrapping their minds around this, with a view to harnessing intelligent insights into process execution that can drive intelligent improvements. With this layer of intelligence, we move away from ‘assisted robotics’ that require constant monitoring. The true value of robots lies in their ability to identify and fix anomalies as well as start to predict issues or areas for improvement, based on previous patterns. It is these increasingly efficient processes that will lead to a continuous cycle of process improvement, rather than just short-term cost savings.

At its simplest level, a robot contains a set of instructions to complete a specific process. These instructions are all related to the applications that are needed to be used for a specific business process. Robots that need humans to initiate them as in a front office or service desk environment have limited effect on productivity. Digital robots on the other hand, are initiated by other digital robots – they can find their own input data, and work autonomously, allowing for easily scalable robotisation of complex tasks without having to add extra costly desktops and people to manage the process.

We need to re-wire the conversation around robotics in a business context. It’s not about doing intelligent things – it’s about masterminding a series of ‘simple things’ in an intelligent way.

Categories:   Robotics   Software  
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