Automation Singularity: Collaboration of Humans and Bots
The singularity is almost here. But it’s not the one that has scared everyone from science fiction fans to physicist Stephen Hawking.
The technological singularity, which futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts will happen by 2045, is when computer intelligence overtakes human intellect. However, the approaching “automation singularity” will allow humans and robots to work together and create hyperproductivity not possible separately. The result will be seamless collaboration rather than a battle for dominance.
Organizations have effectively used automation for decades. However, this technology’s constant evolution is creating a new landscape that stretches far beyond bots performing the simplest tasks. The emergence of robotic process automation (RPA) adds a new dimension — and new workforce — to the automation journey of many organizations.
RPA is creating the foundation for a digital workforce capable of understanding processes and replicating them. The digital worker can comprehend a defined process, go to the relevant systems, find the right information, read and analyze it, and then essentially start executing the process with little human intervention.
Given that so many business processes are defined largely by well-entrenched enterprise software, automating deterministic processes using bots is fairly simple. So, it’s not surprising that automation first caught on when it was applied to a host of back-office processes that are well-defined and repetitive. Of course, even with those advantages, most organizations have managed to automate only about 60% to 70% — at most. This is because most processes have exceptions that require more complex thinking or human intervention.
At the same time, we’re seeing the convergence of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) moving from a deterministic to intelligent automation model. While it is still early, we are seeing automated algorithms with higher order capabilities that are able to handle very complex scenarios. The evolution of the digital worker is on an accelerated path as RPA embraces various facets of AI. In many ways, RPA functions like the heart, ticking along and keeping things going. AI, on the other hand, is like the brain and sensory system.
The future of human empowered automation
The future isn’t about machines replacing humans. Rather, we’re moving toward human-empowered automation. This essentially means that digital workers will help humans to understand and perform higher orders of work. Digital workers will complement human intelligence and allow many people to realize their maximum cognitive potential.
One potential downside is that the total number of jobs shifted by automation might not necessarily balance. Research from Forrester shows that automation will result in a 29% reduction in existing jobs. At the same time, we will see a 13% increase in new jobs created as a result of the technological change.1
Other research, including a World Economic Forum report, has projected a net gain of jobs attributed to automation in the next few years.
Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, U.S. economics professors who have researched the effects of automation on the labor market, argue that automation “increases the size of the pie, but labor gets a smaller slice.” However, they wrote that not all technology is equal.2
The combined capability of human worker creativity and empathy, along with digital worker productivity and consistency, will unleash a powerful force. The result can transform enterprises and will lead to the creation of a new class of knowledge workers empowered by their digital partners.
This undoubtedly will have many wide-ranging ramifications for all facets of an organization, from recruitment to training to operations to performance management. If we look at the future enterprise a decade from now, we will see a very different workforce.
Organizations of the future will embrace “automation singularity,” or the concept of seamless collaboration between human and digital workers. Automation singularity moves enterprises from a parallel workforce to unified workforce, deterministic operations to contextual operations. This can break down functional process silos to connected customer journeys and generate rich process-level data to power the future AI. This can result in a hyperoptimized enterprise that will seed disruption in the way products and services are conceptualized, manufactured, marketed and delivered.
New disciplines for the future
As the automation singularity arrives, organizations must focus intently on the following disciplines in order to capitalize on its potential.
- Discover: Primarily a business process-led activity, this discipline focuses on redesigning customer journeys, identifying process automation opportunities, and creating and managing the overall automation blueprint. Establish cross-functional teams that can embed technical experts into groups of traditional creative workers.
- Automate: This deals with identifying and implementing the right technology stack, which influences every part of the employee process relationship. This discipline needs to consider the right combination of attended and unattended automation, cover complex end-to-end processes alongside justified AI capabilities, and provide careful consideration of trade-offs. Rather than focusing only on efficiency, use expertise from your creative workers to enhance employee or customer experience.
- Orchestrate: Navigating the automation singularity journey needs an integrated approach to human and digital workforce management. This is where leaders, such as a digital workforce manager, must unify both the technology and human capital to create a single, comprehensive roadmap.3
Human reskilling, governance and structure
As the nature of work changes, organizations will have a chance to achieve unprecedented agility, speed, personalization, etc. However, the organizational structures and policies will need to evolve to facilitate the change.
In 2019, EdgeVerve commissioned a study called the Evolution of the Enterprise Workforce in the Age of Automation. That online survey questioned 300 business and IT decision-makers from mature markets and who were responsible for their organizations’ RPA strategies and initiatives. The study demonstrated that organizations across the globe want to expand and scale their automation efforts, believing it will not only help with their business outcomes but benefit their human workforces.
With technological progress as a given, the roadblocks that an organization faces will be a result of human limitations. CXOs must start reviewing their current organizational processes, policies and strategies with that changing workforce in mind.The transformation that automation and AI will bring goes way beyond process changes and instead, demands a significant shift in mindset. That new direction must be understood, appreciated and driven by top leadership. Enterprises that understand and start working towards this competitive advantage will not only thrive but also earn the opportunity to lead the next business evolution or even revolution.
The technological singularity is still decades away — if it ever happens. The automation singularity, however, has reached our doorstep. How well are you prepared?
3 EdgeVerve, Infosys