Demystifying AI: Understanding Automation

Themes of AI Oct 14, 2020

The importance and necessity of automation: the driving force of change

At this point in Artificial Intelligence innovation, automation is perhaps the definitive example of how the technology can be used within business. From the streamlining of manual repetitive tasks to autonomous robotics, this is one of the most famous types of Machine Learning. The term is however not just limited to AI, encompassing programmed technologies including Robotic Process Automation and Business Process Automation.

Automation in itself is not a new concept, having been introduced and improved upon across previous industrial revolutions. So what sets AI and ML apart from previous incarnations of automation? The ability of machines to learn through exposure to data and perform a broad array of tasks, from the mundane and repetitive to tasks so complex that they defy the speed or scalability at which humans could ever possibly perform the task.

The rise of automation has lead to different perspectives on its impact and consequences. In some circles, automation is considered a dirty word; with fears circulating that the relentless roll of automation will take our jobs, our livelihoods and perhaps the very significance and purpose of being human. Whilst in others automation is seen as a breaker of chains and an opportunity; liberating the brilliance of human minds from the tedium of banal and boring tasks to engage in pursuits involving critical, creative and emotive thinking and reasoning. Fears that robots will replace us and take our jobs usually centre around Autonomous AI. Such worries are not entirely without merit, with recent studies suggesting that 30% of jobs are at risk of automated replacement by mid 2030 [1].

As machines augment how humans work, our roles will inevitably shift aware from job descriptions and competencies that can now be performed by machines to more human-centred performance metrics. The existing capabilities of the technology suggests it is best placed to augment human roles rather than replace them. By working in conjunction with machines, your workforce can be relieved of dirty, dull and dangerous tasks, freeing them up for critical thinking, decision making or leadership tasks. The monetary benefits of streamlining your processes aside, augmenting your staff's roles can improve job satisfaction and profitability. Recent studies have reported 78% of employees believe Automation will allow them to work on the more interesting and rewarding aspects of their work [2], improving personal and professional fulfillment. Given that workplaces which are more engaged are 21% more profitable than those that aren’t [3] it is easy to see that Automation will offer more effective and exciting work rather than replacing it.

What  is automation and how does it work?

When it comes to AI, automation involves a system that can autonomously carry out repetitive tasks with little to no human involvement.

Fundamentally, automation is enabled by machine learning; rather than programming a machine to perform a task, a machine is provided with data which it analyses in order to identify the patterns and trends that exist within. When presented with new data, the AI is able to take the learnings derived and apply them to new data and circumstances and respond. This of course varies depending on the application or type of task which is being automated, however the overall principles are relatively consistent throughout different types of automated systems.

When applied to businesses this most commonly will take the form of utilizing a companies data to streamline processes and workflows. There are different approaches to automation such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Business Process Automation (BPA). The approach a business elects to automate a process will depend on the nature and complexity of the task, the type of analysis that needs to be performed and the actions taken. These are not inherently Artificial Intelligence solutions, however ML will enable smart automation as the system improves through the acquisition and analysis of new data.

How is automation being used?

The recent shift to an online workplace is emblematic of the necessity for digitisation of core business processes. Many companies have realised it is time to move from away from the manual, towards a digitally automated and optimised set of processes. These vary from industry to industry, with the filing of legal documents, compiling of accountancy reports and supply chain management systems all serving as examples. What these solutions share is the ability to take advantage of available data to remove time intensive manual elements, streamlining entire business processes. Not only does this creative vastly more efficient workstreams, as your employees can easily access the most important information, but it reduces the capacity for human error. Using AI to automate these processes therefore saves your business time, money and reduces overall risk.

Physical infrastructure is one of the most obvious areas that Automation AI is being applied in businesses. Automated picking systems in warehouses and self driving cars are fantastic examples of this. Machine Learning powers the solutions that allow machines to carry out tasks more effectively and efficiently than humans; machines can work relentlessly, tirelessly and have no concept of boredom or distraction.

In the above examples, there are levels of autonomy within each Artificial Intelligence solution. A picking system or robot arm for example only has the modicum of ML required to be able to pick up and move a very specific set of objects. A self driving car on the other hand has a much greater level of autonomy, allowing the most advanced forms of this technology to operate on our roads with human drivers. It is this autonomy (ANOTHER WORD) that creates not only more streamlined operations, but safer infrastructure, as consideration can be made for the surrounding environment. This results in people and machines working together, leveraging the synergies of what both are inherently capable of achieving. In turn this allows for faster, smarter and safer business processes.

What are you waiting for?

The real success of Automation AI is its ability to conduct repetitive tasks more effectively and efficiently and at a scale that exceeds human capability. What must be stressed however is that this is the current extent of the technology. As the following examples will highlight, the most beneficial means of implementing Automation systems is as a tool for augmenting human work. In turn freeing up your employees from repetitive manual assignments to allow them focus on the more decision oriented tasks.

Automation AI is clearly beneficial to any business, enabling the streamlining of processes creates a more engaged workforce/as a solution that streamlines business processes to provide scalable effeciency, that in turn is far more profitable. Mitigation of risk by reducing human errors through ML and leveraging the processing power of the technology to improve efficiency are further incentives for implementing this type of AI into your business.

Perhaps the most striking point of all however is that 52% of worldwide CEO’s are considering human and machine augmentations in their business [4]. Embracing this technology is therefore becoming a necessity for operating cost effectively and maintaining a competitive advantage. Automation capabilities are evolving every day but the benefits are creating business value today. There is no better time to investigate how embracing automation can transform your business. If you’re interested in learning more about creating a bespoke enterprise grade solution for your company contact Brainpool for a free consultation about its potential for business transformation.

Written by Dominic Richmond

[1] PWC ‘Will Robots Really Steal Our Jobs? International Impact of Automation’ 2018

[2] Smartsheet ‘Automation in the Workplace’ 2017

[3] Gallup ‘State of the Global Workplace’ 2017

[4] PWC ‘Global CEO Survey’ 2018

Brainpool AI

Brainpool is an artificial intelligence consultancy specialising in developing bespoke AI solutions for business.