From cobots that collaborate with humans to HoloLens, a wearable holographic computer, AI is no longer science fiction.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has migrated from the realm of science fiction to real life and is now everywhere—at work, at home, and at play.
Believe it or not, AI as a concept has been around for literally ages. In Greek mythology, an ancient Greek god named Talos was the first robot, while inChinese culture, early precursors to modern technology were automota made of wheels and cogs that operated clocks and animated toys. But the term was officially coined in 1956, when Marvin Minsky predicted that AI would be achievable in the near future. Fast-forward to the 21st century, when IBM’s AI,“Deep Blue,” crushed international chess masters, and AI “Watson” trounced Ken Jennings at Jeopardy.
These superstar computers arguably pale in comparison to workplace AI created to facilitate work and improve productivity. According to a World Economic Foundation 2020 study, “surveyed companies indicated they are looking to expand their workforce because of deeper technological integration (34%)…and expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work (41%).”
Following are a few examples of how cutting-edge AI can boost productivity and improve the workplace environment.
The Microsoft HoloLens is a wearable, holographic computer based in mixed reality, which the company defines as the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.
Think personal VR goggles, but a lot more powerful. German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp has teamed with Microsoft to use the HoloLens for their field technicians to measure the stairs, capture digital data, and create 3-D graphic architecture models—thus streamlining the process, making the job easier, and reducing human error.
The technology is also used to aid designers in realizing plans and blueprints, allowing them preview design choices in real time with rendered digital layers over architecture, thus drastically reducing guesswork and heavy lifting—as seen in this video from Microsoft.
First, a clarification: cobots and robots differ. Robots are designed to work freely of human interaction, while cobots collaborate with humans on simple and complex tasks to help reduce repetitive stress injuries (RSI) and workplace accidents, increase efficiency, and ease boredom and workload so employees can focus on quality over quantity.
Cobots are used in auto and electronics production and order processing—think Amazon fulfillment centers—as well as boutique companies for product packaging and food manufacturing, where the Baker-bot helps with everything from preparing ingredients to baking to packaging. Safety features include safe speeds and emergency automatic shut-offs if people venture too close.
In the office, mixed reality technology like the HoloLens means staffers are no longer tethered to a desk or computer--especially beneficial for workers on the move. In customer service and human resource management, chatbots have become increasingly popular and adept at assessing information from users to pass onto the employees who can best help them. Meanwhile, programs like LivePerson, a small business solution, engagingly gathers preliminary information from a user who will ultimately chat with a live person.
Human resource departments are using AI to streamline the process of identifying qualified candidates, manage performance reviews, and communicate with employees. Managers can spend less time sifting through resumes and focus on candidates recommended by AI innovations like iMocha, a skills evaluation tool that sorts through resumes and presents qualified candidates based on predetermined criteria—not only collecting information like traditional databases, but also making recommendations.
Despite AI indisputable future as an integral element of the workplace, questions remain. Will AI eventually replace human jobs? At what level does human intuition exceed artificial intelligence in decision-making? What happens when the workplace loses the human touch? Will there be a tipping point in industry that will see more machines on the floor than humans, and how will we handle that? For now at least, only the future holds the answers to these questions.
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