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It is nearly impossible to talk about technology today without some mention of artificial intelligence (AI). While everyone is familiar with AI, the concept of augmented intelligence is not as ubiquitous. Augmented intelligence sees AI and other technologies as ways of advancing human performance and capabilities, not as a substitute for them.
From warehouses and hospitals to retail and grocery stores, autonomous equipment, machine learning and advanced analytics are enabling people to be the best versions of themselves, creating efficiently optimized workforces.
Technology’s influence on our lives is indisputable. From smartphone applications to healthcare diagnoses and self-driving vehicles, technology continues to automate more aspects of our everyday work and life. Perhaps this is why many have an irrational fear of AI, worrying that it willone day replacehuman labor altogether.
That is simply not true. Despite the portrayal of technology’s world domination, people and machines have a symbiotic relationship. The relationship can best be explained by the concept of “augmented intelligence,” the idea that workplace technology is meant to further human capabilities.
Technological Edge, Human Touch
Technology will never replace human labor across industries because it’s simply not possible. Each has traits that the other will never have. Humans will never be able to replicate the computer-guided accuracy, precision, memory, scale and consistency that technology provides. Yet humans have the power of critical thinking, which engineers have been unable to reproduce in robots and other technology to date.
The latest advances in robotics are often put forth as evidence of technology replacing human labor. This is still not an accurate mindset; many robots actually make jobs more productive. Take one of our customers, Stop & Shop, which just launcheda robot named Marty. Marty’s only job is to patrol the aisles for spills and messes — certainly not the most productive task for humans.
Similarly, Walmart is now rolling outautonomous scrubbing machinesto clean its stores’ concrete floors and robots that walk up and down the aisles, scanning for out-of-stock products for humans to replenish. In retail, even the robots that do take tasks away from human employees aren’t making labor obsolete. Rather, they’re empowering humans to spend less time on mundane and tedious tasks and more time on creating innovative solutions.
This is the epitome of augmented intelligence — humans and technology cannot replace each other, only complement each other.
A Harmonious Union
Incorporating AI and other technologies into the human workforce is crucial for companies trying to keep pace with today’s “now economy.” This is especially true in the retail sector, where initiatives to satisfy the modern consumer are often at odds with resource constraints. This is why retailers are constantly looking for technology solutions to boost productivity and efficiency.
For example, we conducted a recent survey and found thatmore than 75% of distribution centerswill need to be able to fulfill same-day delivery orders by 2022. Many supply chain professionals are implementing measures that will create a safer, more productive and more enjoyable workplace for their people.
Take collaborative robots, also known as “cobots,” for example. As the name suggests, cobots collaborate with humans to carry out tasks. Imagine being a warehouse worker and having to constantly check for inventory shortages or inaccuracies through your distribution center (their average size is nearly 185,000 square feet).
Warehouse inventory control is a long, complex and boring task for a human. Knowing this, many distribution centers and even consumer packaged goods (CPG) organizations are launching cobots to patrol the warehouse, monitor stock levels and generate other data to help management guide decision making.
Prescriptive analytics is a retail and CPG software technology that uses machine learning and AI to automatically analyze data, look for opportunities for improvement and send them to an appropriate stakeholder with action steps for responding to them, and it’s something our warehousing customers use often in conjunction with portable retail technology devices. It makes human labor more effective by alerting employees to the most efficient picking routes, canceled or changed orders in progress, when and where pallets need to be loaded and other critical information to help them do their jobs better.
A Collaborative Coexistence
When rolling out an augmented intelligence solution, don’t forget that it’s important to take the time to prepare your employees. Change is difficult, and you don’t want the new solution to surprise anyone or catch them off-guard; they can easily fall for the misconception that augmented intelligence is here to replace them.
Talk to your people (each company will have its own best medium for doing so), and explain carefully and clearly that this new solution is not here to replace them, but is here to help them do their jobs better and be happier doing them.
If available, call up a reference from one of your solution vendor’s existing customers. They can talk to your employees about their experience with the solution and help reassure them that this is a beneficial change. Above all, take the process one step and one day at a time, and the benefits will speak for themselves.
While technology’s role in reshaping everyday life cannot be argued, the lens through which we view this reshaping should acknowledge the human element needed to continually progress. Technology’s purpose is to make us the best versions of ourselves and to amplify the human elements for which there are