Robotic Process Automation – coming to a job near you!

JP Morgan recently unveiled new internal technology that reviews contracts using machine learning which is faster and more accurate than any human lawyer. The software robot is called Contract Intelligence (COIN), it literally reads contract loan agreements and according to this article could save 360,000 legal hours annually at the global financial services firm. The idea of computers replacing humans is not new but more recently the tangible use cases in the workplace are starting to increase. Artificial Intelligence or Cognitive Computing previously found artistic expression in movies such as the Terminator series and IBM made ground breaking progress with Deep Blue in the late nineties and more recently with their personalised AI robot Watson.

PwC Australia’s Robotic Process Automation division believes the technology will continue to drive the 4th Industrial Revolution through the dramatic time savings it offers middle and back office operations, which are typically manual and repetitive. According to co-lead Brandon Stafford “RPA differs from  traditional software by working at the user interface level, replicating the exact actions a human user would take and creating, in effect, digital operations”. This is a scary non-fiction thought for the people that have been doing these jobs and firms will need to ensure re-skilling and workforce balancing programmes are in place.

“RPA differs from  traditional software by working at the user interface level, replicating the exact actions a human user would take and creating, in effect, digital operations”

Renowned futurist Graeme Codrington recently launched the O2 and TomorrowToday’s 2017 Futurist Forecast, an indepth look at forces affecting the workplace. “Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning… the subjects of science fiction are fast becoming the reality of IT decision-makers” and the report points to four competitive considerations for firms in 2017:

  • Cloud and mobile
  • Big data for the frontline
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Experimentation

A number of South African banks launched chat features in their digital banking platforms in 2016. Absa’s Facebook banking answers common questions, which is time that has been saved from a back office call centre and replaced with software. According to the Futurist Forecast;

“chatbots enable people having conversations with machines. Literally conversations. This comes down to four things: voice recognition, natural language processing, real-time translation and machine learning”

FNB’s chat feature is embedded in their digital banking app and is answered by a real banker but is also a saving for the bank and customer because the interaction is slicker and less intrusive.

Last year Uber acquired a company that makes kits which can turn a big rig into a self-driving truck. Building on the driverless car progress by Google and others, on one hand this is just another field of technology disrupting the world as we know it. Additionally it’s a benefit for road safety; virtually all of the 350,000 truck crashes in the US last year can be traced to human error. However, on the other hand it raises a huge dilemma about jobs; truck driving is one of the biggest sources of jobs in the US. What will happen to these jobs if more accurate, safer and cheaper robots take them over? Lawyers, truck drivers, call centre agents and many other professions are being disrupted or completely replaced by technology. The bad news for humans; software and robots don’t need a vacation and they never really say “I’ll be back”.

The good news: there’s still time to learn about this tech and grapple with the likely impact on your career, use your next coffee break to do so.

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