From cobots that collaborate with humans to Hololens, a wearable holographic computer, AI is no longer science fiction.
The idea of Artificial Intelligence is no longer science fiction. AI is everywhere - at work, at home, at play. Believe it or not, AI is a concept that had been around for ages before coining the term in 1956. In Greek mythology, an ancient Greek god named Talos was the first robot. In Chinese culture, early precursors to modern technology were automota made of wheels and cogs that operated clocks and animated toys. But it wasn’t until 1956 when Marvin Minsky presented that artificial intelligence would be achievable in the near future. Skip ahead to the 21st century when IBM’s AI Deep Blue crushed international chess masters or when AI Watson trounced Ken Jennings at Jeopardy. (ABC News/YouTube)
However, these superstar computers pale in comparison to the everyday workplace AI created to make work easier for employees and increase productivity for employers. From cobots that collaborate with humans to Hololens, a wearable holographic computer. According to a World Economic Foundation 2020 study Future of Jobs, “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%).” (WEFoundation) The workforce has moved into this new age of advanced technology, but what does that mean for the employees who will work with the technology?
Let’s look at a few examples of AI and how they can affect the workplace environment.
The Microsoft Hololens is a wearable, holographic computer based in mixed reality. Microsoft defines mixed reality 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. Mixed reality is a hybrid of reality and virtual reality and does not take place in the physical world or virtual world exclusively. Users of this interface see heads-up displays over their environment when they put them on. Imagine personal VR goggles, but a lot more powerful. ThyssenKrupp, a chair lift manufacturer out of Germany, has teamed with Microsoft to use the Hololens for their technicians in the field. Instead of tape measures, workers can use the Hololens interface to measure the stairs, capture digital data, and create 3-D graphic models of the architecture. This has streamlined the process, making it easier for the worker and reducing human error.
In other fields, this technology is used to aid designers in realizing plans and blueprints. In this video from Microsoft, designers are using the technology to preview design choices in real time with rendered digital layers over architecture. A designer can move the image of a piece of furniture around a room without breaking their back. AI help drastically reduces guesswork and heavy lifting for the worker.
Before we talk about cobots, let’s understand that cobots are not the same as robots. Robots are designed to work freely of human interaction while cobots collaborate with humans on simple and complex tasks. Cobots reduce repetitive stress injuries (RSI), lower the instances of workplace accidents, increase efficiency, and ease workload so employees can focus on quality over quantity. Cobots are on the floor of industry giants like the auto industry, electronics, and order processing- think amazon fulfillment centers- as well as boutique companies for production packaging and food manufacturing. In the food industry, companies are using the Baker-bot to help bakers, from preparing ingredients to baking to final packaging (Apex Manufacturing). Safety features, including safe speeds, emergency automatic cutoffs at the slightest resistance to a human or thing, and proximity stops when someone steps into the area of the cobot. Companies benefit from greater quality control, consistent production speeds, and reduced injuries in the workplace with this AI. The greatest advantage for their human collaborators range from reducing repetition and boredom, eliminating dirtier jobs, and a less dangerous work environment.
In the office, mixed reality technology has replaced the office desktop computer and even the desk altogether. With mixed reality glasses like the Hololens, workers are no longer tethered to a desk or computer which can be especially beneficial for workers on the move. AI has made strides in assisting customer service and human resource management. Chatbots have become increasingly popular as automating interactions have become more popular. Chatbots assess information from the user to pass on to the employee who can help them best. For the worker, a program like LivePerson, a small business solution, uses messaging to communicate with the user who will ultimately chat with a live person.
Human resource departments are using AI to streamline the application process to identify qualified candidates, manage performance reviews, and communicate with employees. In the AI hiring process, managers can spend less time sifting through resumes and focus on the candidates recommended by Interview Mocha. Interview Mocha is a skill evaluation tool that can sort through resumes and present qualified candidates based on predetermined criteria. This differs from a traditional database as the program not only collects the information but also makes recommendations.
There is no question that AI will grow as an integral part in the workplace but questions still need to be addressed. Will AI replace human jobs? At what level does human intuition exceed artificial intelligence in decision making? Lastly, what happens when the workplace loses the human touch? Workers may want easier jobs but the satisfaction that comes with a job well done should not be made obsolete. Losing this drive, this function of satisfaction, could be detrimental to company culture and morale. There will be a tipping point in industry and people management that will see more machines on the floor than humans. How are we going to handle that? AI will never be human and will never provide “that human touch.” How far will society go to make life easier and more efficient? How far are you willing to go?
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