The Robots are Here and There is Fear

I thought I would conjure up the spirit of the US patriot Paul Revere who (during my school years) was credited as shouting, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” With solid scholarship, it appears Paul Revere likely never shouted those words at all. In fact, the words he did say  –  apparently something more on the order of, “The regulars are coming out.” The word regulars was code for the British and was likely uttered in hushed tones.

Not letting facts get in the way of a needed point, I’ll raise the spirit of the long-held (albeit somewhat stylized version) of Paul Revere’s warning and contemporize it to shout, “The Robots are here! The Robots are here!”

The winter Olympics are a strong signal of the robots’ arrival, and I am certain we can expect far more from robotics and artificial intelligence in the years ahead.

In case you missed some of the 85 robot appearances in Pyeongchang, an Olympic venue swarming with robots, here are a few highlights (or depending on your perspective lowlights). At the winter Olympics robots:

  • Emulate fish and swim in the International Broadcast Center
  • Vacuum floors in the press area
  • Provide translation services for guests at venues
  • Paint murals
  • Carried the Olympic flame
  • Skied on the sidelines alongside Olympic athletes

The Reuters article on the skiing robots  (click on the picture to see them in action) notes that the robots fared better in handling the challenges of high winds than did human alternatives. 

That article went on to describe the requirements for robot participation (e.g., height, standing on two legs and using skis and poles) and how “The robots were equipped with camera sensors to detect the blue and red flagpoles in their path and turn as they raced down a beginner’s hill.”

A preview of the future of robots and sport came in the form of a comment from the robot ski race event organizer, Kim Dong-uk who said, “I think in the future robots will have their own Winter Games…”

While watching robots skiing has novelty appeal for me, I can’t see myself investing money or time watching robotic battles – but I suspect I am not the target audience.

The Data on Fear of Robot and AI Displacement

The arrival of robots (and artificial intelligence for that matter) is doing more than spark blog posts like mine about their role in the winter Olympics. According to a recent Gallup study:

  • 73% of Americans predict AI will cause overall job losses.
  • To avert losing one’s job to AI, 49% of American’s say “soft” skills, such as teamwork, communication, creativity, and critical thinking will be most important, while 51% say job preservation will require “hard” skills like math, science, and coding.
  • 51% of respondents noted they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that additional training will be required to maintain current salary levels as AI advances.

Soft or Hard Skills

Like so many binary choices, I doubt that future employment will depend upon either “soft” or “hard” skills. In my opinion, both skill sets will be in high demand.

As technology advances, programmers and data scientists will fuel expansion. Additionally, individuals who can make human connections and create solutions based on an empathic understanding of the human condition (an emotional sensitivity and insight beyond the capacity of algorithms) will also become invaluable.

The key for us as business people, entrepreneurs, customer facing experience creators, and human beings for that matter, is to develop our talents in a way that complement the emergence of AI and robots (certainly not to battle them on the ski slopes or elsewhere).

How are you helping yourself and your team members acquire the skills that will likely make you and them employable for life – given a future where technology will certainly absorb many automated tasks?



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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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