Science fiction authors have long predicted a world in which intelligent robots take over the world. Classic authors such as Isaac Asimov even created ways in which humans should interact with robots, predicting that there will eventually be a problem defining the difference between a human and robot. After all, if a robot can learn, is self-aware, and grows in intelligence and human empathy as it ages then how can you define it as “not alive”?
This has created our fear of robots. They are fine if they are just performing repetitive tasks on a car assembly line, but if they can learn and improve then one day they might be better than humans.
But we are not close to that time yet. Anyone who has used the Apple Siri device knows that it can be extremely useful if you ask a question like: “where is the nearest Italian restaurant?” but ask it to define the meaning of life and it will be lost.
However, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming a real thing in the Business Process Outsourcing area of services. RPA allows the concept of robots to be applied to services – so it may often just be a piece of software rather than a physical robot, but if it performs a specific service then it gets the robot name.
A good example in contact centres. A vast number of calls to contact centres are repetitive and don’t require a human. For example if you are calling your bank to change address or you just need a balance on your account or you are asking your telephone company to recharge your account with some extra data. Basic interactions like these can be diverted to software systems that understand the voice of the customer and react as a normal agent would, except it’s the robot system performing actions, not a real live agent.
What is interesting though is that some companies with a large volume of interactions – like telcos – are finding that they can allow the system to learn. The robot can be given basic instructions, but can learn from every customer interaction, so the robot learns how to fix problems it was not originally programmed to fix and it can identify trends and patterns in the customer enquiries.
The fear for many humans working in areas such as contact centres is that these robots will entirely replace them, but as this Chicago Inno article shows, the robots are actually supporting the human jobs. Humans are performing more valued-added tasks that require insight and an ability to analyse the data being created. The robots can remove much of the repetitive work and can do it faster.
RPA is going to be the next step for Big Data. How can companies learn from all the information they have and then create processes that can intelligently interact with their customers?
It’s still at the early stages. Some companies are using RPA to improve their customer experience, but the likelihood of RPA learning how to run the company and replacing the humans is remote at present.
However, they are getting better. Just imagine where we might be in a decade from now? Eventually we might need to start reading Asimov once again so we can figure out how to integrate the robots into society!