Automation

AI can also play a huge role in automation in a multitude of industries. Currently, there is an interesting philosophical problem rearing its ugly head around automation, something perfectly captured in Kevin Roose’s NY Times article The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite.[i] Roose reports that, at Davos 2019, there were “panel discussions about building ‘human-centered A.I.’ for the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’—Davos speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology—and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.”16

What’s interesting about the article is Roose’s explanation that, whereas the corporate CEOs who attended Davos were publicly fretting about the potential job loses an automation revolution will unquestionably bring, behind the scenes executive were racing to automate as fast as they could, with little concern for the impending cuts to their work force.16 Automation was seen as just another way for businesses to get a leg up on their competition, the worker be damned.16

“All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen,” says Roose.16

“People are looking to achieve very big numbers,” said Mohit Joshi, the president of Infosys, a technology and consulting firm that helps other businesses automate their operations.16 “Earlier they had incremental, 5 to 10 percent goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1 percent of the people we have?’”16

Some experts claim that AI will create more jobs than it destroys, and that job losses caused by automation won’t be catastrophic, but rather automation will help workers become more productive and will free them from repetitive work, giving them more time for creative tasks over routine ones, notes Roose.16

Much of this discussion is going on behind closed doors as political unrest in the West makes automation a taboo subject right now.16 “That’s the great dichotomy,” says Ben Pring, the director of Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a technology services firm, “On the one hand, Pring says, these profit-minded executives want to automate as much as possible, on the other hand, they fear a backlash in civic society.”16

However, if you want to hear how American leaders talk about automation in private, you need only listen to what their counterparts in Asia say, claims Roose.16 Terry Gou, the chairman of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, has says the company plans to replace 80 percent of its workforce with robots in the next five to 10 years.[ii] Richard Liu, the founder and CEO of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, hopes to one day have a completely automated company—100% operated by AI and robots—and it has invested $4.5 billion to build an AI center in Guangdong, China, to implement such a scenario.[iii]

Automation doesn’t just have to be about robots and factories, however, but can remove the day-to-day drudgery work. As I will explain later in the book, there are AI tools out there that can automate away the repetitive processes like cataloging images or video and let human do what humans do best—create.

“Deep learning has made speech-understanding practical on our phones and in our kitchens, and its algorithms can be applied widely to an array of applications that rely on pattern recognition,” the Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030 study adds.8

Google Duplex has shown that AI bots can do things like make reservations at hair salons and restaurants and this is one of the deep learning futures. Businesses should develop voice and speech understanding technology or they risk of being left behind by their competition. Voice, in particular, is a technology waiting for mass use. We communicate through voice as much as any other sense and the companies that win the battle in voice will win the battle for the 21st Century consumer. 

In a March 2017 note to clients[iv], RBC Capital argued that Amazon's voice assistant Alexa “could bring the U.S. e-commerce giant $10 billion of revenues by 2020 and be a ‘mega-hit.’” According to Arjun Kharpal, “The investment bank has dubbed the technology ‘voice-activated internet (VAI)’ and said it represents a ‘material opportunity’ for both Amazon and Google, which has its own technology called Google Assistant.”19

RBC breaks down the numbers as follows19:

·       Alexa device sales, which could reach $60 million by 2020.

·       Voice driven shopping sales, which could reach $400 per customer by 2020.

·       Platform revenues: If Amazon reaches over 100 million installed Alexa devices then it could create an app store and tap into “platform revenue.”

·       Amazon Web Services (AWS) tailwind: “Developers will need Amazon's cloud solutions–AWS–to create apps, capture data and perform analysis. This will help AWS revenues.”19

RBC Capital notes that, “As the number of skills rises, Amazon will create a marketplace that will allow them to charge companies to appear more prominently in its app store.”19 Paid skills on Alexa could be lucrative and Amazon could collect revenue share payments accordingly

Of course, Amazon is not alone in the voice activated internet (VAI) market.19 Google has its own voice assistant built into Android smartphones and its own smart speaker called Google Home.19 According to Kharpal, “RBC was surprised by the popularity of Google Home since it was only launched in October 2016 in the U.S.”19

“Awareness of Google Home among 1,748 Amazon customers surveyed by RBC was 60 percent. Whereas when RBC did a similar survey in September 2015, just shortly after the Echo had launched widely in the U.S., only 33 percent of respondents had heard of Alexa. Google however still only has around 80 Actions, which are like Alexa's skills, which total above 10,000,” explains Kharpal.19



[i] Roose, Kevin. (2019). NY Times. The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite. January 25, 2019.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/25/technology/automation-davos-world-economic-forum.html (Accessed 27 January 2019).

[ii] Tang, Ziyi, and Lahiri, Tripti. (2018). Quartz. Here’s how the plan to replace the humans who make iPhones with bots is going. June 22, 2018.  https://qz.com/1312079/iphone-maker-foxconn-is-churning-out-foxbots-to-replace-its-human-workers/ (Accessed 27 January 2019).

[iii] Bird, Jon. (2018). Forbes. Chilling or Thrilling? JD.com Founder Envisions a ‘100%’ Robot Workforce. April 27, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonbird1/2018/04/27/chilling-or-thrilling-jd-coms-robotic-retail-future/#520fb59f7fcf (Accessed 27 January 2019).

[iv] Kharpal, Arjun. (2017). CNBC. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant could be a 10 billion ‘mega hit’ by 2020: Research. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/10/amazon-alexa-voice-assistan-could-be-a-10-billion-mega-hit-by-2020-research.html (Accessed 12 January 2019).