September 21, 2016

Robots on duty. Assistant or orchestrator – you decide

Taneli Tikka

Head of Innovation Incubation, Data Driven Businesses, Tieto

In the era of robots, organisations can be divided into four main types. Robotics can have a determining or assisting role in an organisation but in addition, cooperation in an organisation can focus either on robots or on other people. Often the winning combination will be both; teams of people, artificial intelligence and robots working together in unison.

At the core of a fully robot-driven organisation is software that controls the operations. Employees are not in contact with each other but use technology to perform their jobs. This model is used for example by Uber, although in future, drivers may also be replaced when cars become self-driving. A concept which Uber is already famously testing in Pittsburgh, USA.

In a robotic-assisted organisation, robotics replace only a part of an expert's work, which is largely based on interaction with other experts. For example, artificial intelligence brings effective analysis methods for the work of stock market analysts, but it is not a substitute for the human interaction involved in forming a market outlook, i.e., the information gathered by analysts from their colleagues and from company management.

In a team-driven, decentralised organisation, it is possible to shrink the central organisation as small as possible with the help of robotics. The actual work is performed in a decentralised way in teams that are not dependent on cooperation with each other. For example, the Dutch company Buurtzog employs approximately 900 health care professionals, and there are only 50 people in its central organisation. Health care teams have independent responsibility for certain geographic business areas.

Expert organisations based on networks of teams are divided into smaller and larger teams that form networks with each other. For example Alphabet, familiar from the Google search engine, is full of teams that perform their work acting as part of larger teams and in networks of other teams.

As expertise becomes ever more deeply specialised and focused on narrower areas, experts must form substantially stronger networks with each other. Previously, experts only needed a few people around them but today, the number of people needed is about eight people for one more substantial work task.

It is forecasted that at least 7% of the current jobs will be entirely replaced with robots within next 20 years. It does not mean that jobs just disappear and these people are being redundant – the effect is rather enrichening the working life when there’s more time for tasks that really need human touch, culture building and leadership. And many more jobs than that will see part of their tasks, that are included in a professional role, shift to robots – while other new areas form up as new tasks, becoming a part of that role.

It is not a question of sharing a finite pie between humans and robots; but rather an opportunity and enrichment of human potential giving us all a thousand new pies all together.

Read also my other blog about robotics; When a maschine takes control.

The blog is part of a report published by Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA ”Robots to work – what happens in the workplace”. Taneli Tikka wrote chapter "When a machine takes control" for the report, pages 63–86.  The report can be downloaded in Finnish on EVA's website.

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