Automation, Robotics, AI: Benefits and Risks

According to observers, current technological advances are set to continue over the next few years. Therefore, the question arises of the interest, advantages and risks that automation, robotics and artificial intelligence can generate.

All about robotization and artificial intelligence (AI)

The term robotization refers to the use of robots to perform certain tasks. Since its creation, the term “robot” has continued to become more popular. Its use has thus spread in popular jargon. Nowadays, the usefulness of robots is revealed in their ability to help humans or animals in the accomplishment of difficult and dangerous tasks. Therefore, the question of the definition of a robot arises. Is it relevant to consider this invention by analyzing it only under the prism of its material constitution?

At the very beginning of the adventure, in the 1950s, the purpose of artificial intelligence (AI) was to ensure that mechanism systems could manipulate symbolic data related to a field of knowledge. First appearing in science fiction films, the robot has long since left cinema screens to become a reality. A subject of curiosity, questions and fears, it now invites itself everywhere, including in global debates relating to working conditions and even its evolution.

Originally, robots were thought of as automatons. Their mission is the execution of repetitive or varied tasks formerly carried out by man. Later, a new generation of robots with sensors was developed. These are devices that allow them to interact with their immediate environment. As for the third generation robots, the main innovation is the artificial intelligence with which they are equipped.

Automation and robotization make it possible to automate cognitive tasks which, although not routine, are nonetheless more complex. Artificial intelligence therefore ensures the implementation of machine-learning. In other words, it offers machines the possibility of learning by themselves.

What are the pros and cons of artificial intelligence (AI)?

The benefits of artificial intelligence are numerous. For example, it protects us from the arduous and dangerous nature of certain jobs. In addition, artificial intelligence allows the robot to work non-stop. It requires no food or rest period. In addition, the AI ​​frees you from tasks with low added value to focus on more important missions, which is a significant time saver. Finally, the AI ​​develops its own intelligence and can, in the long term, be a source of proposals.

However, the development of artificial intelligence is not without risks or disadvantages. Among the best known, the elimination of jobs is regularly cited. Indeed, artificial intelligence makes it possible to replace employees with machines or robots. Furthermore, it must be recognized that artificial intelligence makes companies more dependent on machines and increases their vulnerability.

Moreover, the implementation of an AI is very expensive because of the costs related to research and development. In addition, errors can be made when programming a PLC, not to mention that there are possibilities to hack the system. Such uncertainty can cause serious consequences as well as large-scale losses. Finally, it is impossible, in the current state of things, to endow an AI with capacities allowing it to express human feelings.

Focus on robotization in the tertiary sector

Considering that robotization is a tremendous opportunity, manufacturers have massively invested in the acquisition of robots. The usefulness of these machines is to produce at low cost and in large quantities. All things that can lead to increased profits. Be that as it may, this all-out robotization poses the problem of the place of man in questions of development. Should we not fear that the unbridled search for profits, gains and efficiency will lead to a distancing of man from the human condition? What about his responsibility towards his fellow men?

It cannot be said enough, volunteering, volunteerism and selflessness have always been recognized as the main characteristics of philanthropy. However, the fear of observers is the distance that this vision operates with the fact of wanting to make gains or profits at all costs.

Consequently, the low cost of implementing IT systems as an overlay appears to be an approach compatible with good management of repetitive tasks. Known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), this system involves fast, error-free processing of recurring tasks and 24/7 operation.

In 2017, IBM Watson Explorer, an artificial intelligence, made it possible to replace 34 employees, that is to say, approximately 25% of the workforce of the Japanese company operating in the insurance sector. We know only too well that Japan is currently experiencing an aging population. This is why the country is betting on technological progress to maintain its productivity over the next few years.

The possible impacts of robotization in the world of work

In mainland France, the robot used by Natixis Assurances is the work of Owi, a French start-up. The latter has the ability to read emails and be able to analyze the semantic fields present. In addition to its ability to assign a priority to each email, this robot can formulate responses. Sending the response to the insured is however subject to the control of a human agent.

As we can see, the end of the presence of man in production units is not coming soon. Crédit Mutuel-CIC is another company using artificial intelligence. This is IBM’s Watson. This virtual assistant provides answers to questions regularly asked by Internet users.

Along the same lines, Société Générale has indicated that by 2020, 80% of the bank’s activities will be automated. Suffice to say, these are not developments that could be described as trivial. On the contrary, the cases mentioned above refer to the replacement of a qualified employee by a technological solution.

In this crucial period when the customer relationship has become a major issue for companies, the importance of robotization is well established. From this point of view, a new form of management is to be expected. The inability for AI to be able to manage everything goes without saying, the control of machines by employees placed themselves under the supervision of managers is an imperative. Nevertheless, these senior executives will need training in man-machine management.

What can be the consequences of excessive automation?

The excessive automation of companies has indeed raised some fears on the part of observers. This is the case for machine malfunctions which, if they occur, can lead to production delays and colossal losses. The example of the Tesla factory in 2017 is a clear illustration of this scenario. Based in California and led by its founder, billionaire Elon Musk, Tesla is an electric vehicle manufacturing plant. The company is housed in a huge industrial complex of 510,000 m². According to well-informed sources, this complex is also the most robotic site in the world. Accompanied by 3,000 human employees, Tesla’s robots are capable of assembling up to 1,700 cars per week. But in 2017, following a breakdown in the battery assembly line, there was a record drop in production, causing the company to lose no less than 520 million euros. This disappointment led to the loss of hundreds of jobs at the end of the quarter.

Is it possible to bridge the digital skills gap?

Today, it is wise to question the digital skills available in order to support the changes linked to automation and robotization. Indeed, for several years now, experts have been ringing the alarm about a possible shortage of skills in this sector. However, there is no doubt that regressions are possible in the sector due to the lack of training and related knowledge. It should be noted that such a deficiency can lead to a drop in employee productivity as well as a brake on the growth of the digital economy.

To implement new technologies, organizational changes are necessary. These are essentially costly and time-consuming investments whose implementation can transcend ethical, legal and societal barriers. The interest being not to cancel or delay their deployments.

It is in this sense that we must understand the mission entrusted, in 2017, to the mathematician, deputy of Essonne. In his capacity as president of the parliamentary office for the evaluation of scientific and technological choices, the latter received a mandate from the President of the French Republic and the Prime Minister at the time, to reposition France and Europe at the top of the transformational leadership through digital technologies. The report resulting from the preliminary work of this commission was expected by the end of 2018.

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