Is 2021 the year that AI takes over the workforce?

November 30, 2020
by inlanddigital

By Lawrence Breen

I was reading the other day about a really interesting piece of technology. It’s called Flippy, and fast-food restaurant chains are already using it in trials across the United States. It’s a robot cook, working in a restaurant to automate a range of cooking services. The ‘flippy’ bit came about as it originally ‘flipped’ burgers during its prototype stage.

For some, this is another sign that AI-driven technology, like robots, is coming to replace us in the workforce. And it’s not an unfounded thought. Fast food chains employ a lot of people across a broad range of age groups, so I can understand the concern.

That concern is being seen in a range of industries, from transport to agriculture and everything in between. The Flippy story just made it feel very real for me.

So, the question is, with COVID-19 flipping business models on their heads and a need to drop costs and reduce human interaction, is this the year where AI-driven technology tipped from being a data driven add-on to a full blown replacement?

Rise of the robots

Businesses have had to make major changes. Some, like QR barcodes for ordering at a restaurant, make sense in a world where you don’t want to spread germs by touching a physical menu. But there is an upside: You can change a digital menu a hell of a lot quicker than a printed one and it’s arguably more engaging in a digital form. The interesting question is: By using QR codes, does that mean you can save on wait staff too by having less of them to service the same number of customers?

That’s a really simple example. Now extrapolate that out to robots working in agriculture. You could replace tens of thousands of jobs with a robot. I’ve even seen an example of a robot farmer for your home garden!

This is where it gets tricky: There are obviously huge efficiency benefits from using tech, whereby AI-driven processes can learn and adapt and complete tasks 24/7, with little to no error. You save money on wages and you reduce human error. Makes sense, right?

But what about the human side? The financial impact on our communities, particularly those in low-income roles (but not exclusively, its coming for the higher paying careers as well!), could be catastrophic. There is a serious moral and ethical question here.

The flip side is opportunity

There is, however, a flip side to all this. While some roles will disappear, others will be created. I’m a big believer that in the end we care about each other and we won’t see a scenario where machines replace huge swaths of the workforce. New tech creates new job opportunities.

Remember the rise of the computer? In the 80’s, there was talk that this was the end of the world as we know it and people would simply be replaced by machines. It didn’t happen.

Technology equals change 

Change isn’t always easy to embrace. However, with technology, it’s better to find its positive uses and work to improve the way we live and work. At Inland Digital, we’re investing in robotic process automation tools to help our clients; while we may not sell it today or even in the near future, it’s certainly part of our long-term strategy.

So, to answer the question I posed in the beginning, are the ‘Flippy’s’ of the world going to take over in 2021? They’ve certainly arrived, but it’s not going to be the end of the world as we know it just yet!

What’s your view? We’d love to hear from anyone with an opinion or a use case where AI-driven technology has delivered a benefit for your business and staff. DM me here and let’s chat!


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