Robot and AI are two words that have of late generated a lot of tension to workers who fear that automation will snatch all jobs from humans. However, there is the other side of the story. At other workplaces, employees are really excited working alongside robots and Zume Pizza, a shop in Silicon Valley that makes pizza presents a good example.
In a short while, maybe we will also hear of the same level of excitement from Fuji Xerox R&D, a company in Japan that makes office equipment. But that is after the arrival of their long-awaited social robot which is expected to revolutionize how workers interact.
Dr. Roshan Thapliya, the senior research Manager leading Fuji Xerox’s RTG (Research Technology Group) wants to make it sound as friendly as possible. He says, “the workers are about to welcome a new workmate. It will not take away anyone’s job, but will promote collaboration and assist in handling mundane tasks.” Therefore nobody needs to worry,” he added.
So, will there be a party to celebrate the ‘new employee?’ Well, possibly no, because the new worker is a robot.
The Amazing Reason Why This Social Robot Exists
The agent is being developed at the University of New South Wales. And unlike many bots, which are made with the aim of making them perform tasks like humans, this is designed to specifically help workers. It has been a three-year project – and a collaboration, between Fuji Xerox Researchers and UNSW Creative Robotic Lab based in Japan.
The first part of testing the project involved basic engineering, to see how the machine behaves and interact with the workers inside the lab. The next one would be placing the robot in real-life, in a busy environment to see how it performs, as well as collect feedback from the fellow workmates at the Fuji Xerox offices.
The Tasks It Will Handle
Mr. Thapliya said that the social robot would tackle administrative and organizational tasks. It will also interact with the workers but its main duty is to make the workplace more conducive so that employees can interact with ease. This will allow the workers to focus more on creativity.
Regarding robo-navigation and artificial intelligence, the computer science department of UNSW together with Fuji Xerox is said to handle that. While the Robotics Lab tackles other technical aspects like design and programming. So, we expect the agent to be really cool in executing its mandate.
Concerns About Human Productivity
According to a research in Japan, an average office worker uses only 20 percent of their time in doing the actual job they are supposed to do. The rest is spent on searching for documents, certain information, and reaching out to folks to ask about certain common problems. And Dr. Thapliya was keen to mention that.
However, the teams’ main idea is to come up with a special type of artificial intelligence in form of a robot that can perfectly fit into the workplace to boost productivity, especially in the areas of creativity –but also ensure that the technology doesn’t disturb or scare the people. One thing that will continue to remain challenging and nearly impossible is having a robot with the capacity to handle creative tasks -but AI can definitely help by taking away the mundane tasks to make folks concentrate on creativity.
Employees Well Being To Follow Next
According to the team, the introduction of a social robot marks the beginning of a long journey and along the way, maybe a welfare robot will be developed to monitor employees’ wellbeing and encourage collaboration between colleagues. Well… imagine a scenario where a robot approaches a worker to ask them whether they are okay, or, a case where two employees take their dispute to ‘Mr. Robot’ for some advice or direction. That would be interesting I guess.
However, talking about the current project, the social robot is basically designed for synchronicity, which Professor Mari Velonaki says it is the major key to workplace cooperation. The research team puts it clear that social robots will eliminate the unseen barriers between workers to encourage teamwork.
From a sober point of view, it would be better if the general intention of introducing robots or artificial intelligence in workplaces will be to boost creativity as well as empower employees to work together with the agents. That way the tension that is currently promoted in stories like AI will take away 800 million jobs from us, or robots will replace surgery doctors will be silenced and people will, in fact, welcome the technology.