We should be optimistic about being human in the age of intelligent automation

We should be optimistic about being human in the age of intelligent automation

I’m often asked what I enjoy most about my job. The answer has to be that I can work with new technology at a point in time when the industry faces such a historic level of disruption. 

Disruption has always sounded like an intimidating word, but today I associate it with opportunity rather than fear. Take intelligent automation – one of the newest members of the team for every business.

Automation is increasingly integral to the workforce, processes and products. It extracts the maximum potential from IT and empowers digital devices and computers to learn in real-time from ongoing processing, so they can perform more efficiently thereafter. 

When you think about the speed at which intelligent automation is advancing, the scope of opportunity is immense. The ability a machine has to understand the meaning of what we’re saying, regardless of the words we’re using, is an extraordinary step forward. 

Think about the exchanges that we have with our bank’s call centre: entering your account number, postcode and date of birth, only to repeat it all when you are finally referred to a real person.

Imagine if a computer could learn to understand what we say, the way we talk and what we’re trying to achieve. We would have a more streamlined journey towards a resolution for our problems and a more personalised customer service experience.

In cases like this, automation takes away the more painful and tedious tasks, freeing people up to focus on more meaningful and valuable interactions.  

This innovation is not limited to one or two industries. We are in fact seeing developments across the board that are driving new value for businesses and society alike.

What does this progress look like?

Financial companies are already applying natural language processing to compliance and fraud prevention and identifying relationships and entities across threads. Healthcare providers are using systems to extract and analyse big data to boost clinic performance. 

Healthcare providers are using systems to extract and analyse big data to boost clinic performance. Law enforcement services are using computer vision for facial recognition.

Our gas and energy clients are using intelligent automation coupled, with augmented reality, to help engineers do their jobs more safely, efficiently and accurately.

We can bring manuals, blueprints and other important plans to life right in front of their eyes. This mobile technology helps them to be less dependent on physical instructions and assists the workers to diagnose problems in real time.

The future of bots: power to the people?

There is a fear and uncertainty for all of us about whether employers will replace today’s roles once they start to harness intelligent automation.

But, we should remind ourselves how technology developments like this are bringing levels of accuracy and precision to complex tasks that deal with dauntingly vast amounts of data.

Consider Accenture, where we took 23,000 manual roles in our processing operations function and replaced them with robots. 

23,000 manual roles processing operations are now performed by robots. Image: Shutterstock

23,000 manual roles processing operations are now performed by robots. Image: Shutterstock

The robots are being programmed to run those processes and continuously learning how to do them better.

However, the 23,000 people who were in those roles didn’t disappear. These individuals were trained, reskilled, and now have new roles in the business.

If anything, intelligent automation has created more opportunities.

I believe over the next ten years, technology is going to completely transform the workforce in many different ways.

We are not only discovering how we can replace repetitive manual processes.

As we start to get a deeper understanding of natural language and learning the patterns around behaviours, it will drive a very different outcome, a different set of expectations and a better quality of life.   

Consider when Google first launched driverless cars ten years ago, it assumed that it would take at least a decade for them to be licenced. This year, the number of US States with licenced driverless cars increased to four, starting with Nevada, then Florida, California and Michigan. 

They have recognised the opportunity to liberate their large elderly populations, safely, cheaply and securely. The potential for disruption is huge and coming faster than even Google could predict. I suspect it will have a farther reaching impact over the next few years. 

At the heart of that disruption are people: people will be liberated from time-consuming driving routes; able to live independently and access shops, healthcare and leisure activities. The list goes on.Once we abandon the fear of change which is inherent within all of us we can really invent a new future.

Once we abandon the fear of change which is inherent within all of us, we can really invent a new future.

Exponential business potential

To echo what I said previously, this technology should by no means be seen as a quest to replace roles in the workforce. It is about enhancing human capabilities, such as social and creative skills, with the technology we have today.

  1. Organisations need to really prepare and think of intelligent automation as an essential co-worker for the digital age. It’s the primacy of people, cultural change and new skills.
  1. Get the basics right. It’s about really getting to grips with your data and understanding your security strategies. Then you can orient your new co-worker with business domain expertise.
  1. In humans we trust. The naivety sometimes is that we think because it’s digital, the values we hold as people don’t transfer. There is no solve-all automation solution – it’s a constellation of technologies. But it is the people driving these solutions forward, creatively and courageously, that will help companies embrace open innovation.

If we start to think about what the world might be like in the next year, five years, 10 years, intelligent automation will bring fundamental changes to the way we live and work. Together, with machines, we are changing what’s possible.


About the author

Emma is a senior managing director and leads Accenture’s Technology business in the UK and Ireland. Before joining the company 20 years ago, Emma completed a degree in engineering followed by an MSc in electronics from the University of Edinburgh. Much of her career has been spent delivering large scale complex programmes with an engrained technology architecture background. 


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