Who Goes There? Autonomous Friend or Foe?

The question on everybody’s lips is will they take our jobs or can they augment our lives?

Today there are 1.75 robots for every 1,000 workers, but some economists predict that by 2025 there will be 5.25 robots per 1,000 humans.

When Gary Numan wrote ‘Cars’ in 1979 he wasn’t thinking of self-driving cars or robots but Isaac Asimov certainly was in the 1950’s. I have grown up with the idea of robots being in our lives from Robby Lost in Space to the likes of R2-D2 (and more recently BB-8). I have watched robots transition from books, TV and cinema screens to become a reality in our daily lives, both at work and home. Mention autonomous machines & A.I. in the same breath and most people tend to think of Skynet’s Terminator. There is certainly much debate about whether this is all going to destroy humanity or at the very least take away our jobs.

The world of autonomous devices can vary from chatbots to self-driving cars. The definition of Autonomous is having its own laws and the freedom to act independently or a device capable of operating without direct human control. Let’s separate the soft bots from the hard ones, shall we?

First up, chatbots, they are like the modern equivalent of Microsoft "Clippy", remember him? At the time in the late 90s his main objective was to help you "write a letter" while ironically doing the opposite for most people. Happily, things have changed, the day of the modern chat bot is here. Done right they can extend the user’s experience delivering quick answers to common inquiries, like “where is my stuff?”, and can help organizations streamline processes by automation, leaving more time for human call agents to handle the more complex queries.

Switching to physical bots. Machines automating repetitive tasks have been commonplace on factory floors for decades now, but recently an uprising of intelligent robots has been seen taking to our streets. A battle rages between drones and delivery bots for the last mile in delivering goods to our door steps. Start-ups such as Marble, Dispatch and Starship are working with retail and food vendors in a bid to automate the dispatch process. Robocop has even become reality thanks to Knightscope. While these bots can save costs and work 24/7 they are designed to co-exist with their human counterparts such as delivering on the more local routes, allowing humans to deliver further afield. In fact there are so many sidewalk delivery robots in the Bay Area that there are moves to ban them altogether.

Pulling up to the curb are autonomous vehicles, Gartner forecasts that 250 million connected vehicles will hit the road worldwide in just two short years and the total market will be worth over 900 billion USD by 2035. A single car today generates an exabyte of data a year, packed with sensors measuring almost everything inside and out. Keeping cars efficient way beyond the check engine light, from type pressures to screen wash and even SOS beacons.

I recently heard a fascinating story, from a fireman, about how they could rescue an unconscious driver because their car had sensed a crash and automatically called the emergency services sending the time and location of the incident.The vehicle itself had left the road, in a remote location, hidden deep in a ditch. Without this, it would have been sometime before it was discovered and reported by normal means. There is even a case where a Tesla drove its driver to hospital while he was suffering from a pulmonary embolism.

This is just scratching the surface, it’s interestingly disruptive, self-driving cars force change in road transport and insurance models to keep up, the question of ownership is turned on its head and new laws are required such as in the case of the sidewalker bots.

Numan also asked “Are Friends Electric?” and I think they are, friends more than foes. These examples generate data, and a lot of it, all of which can be used for the better, whether that is saving time, money or even lives. If data is the new oil then understanding it and being able to extract value from it to make meaningful decisions is where the money is at. Welcome to the Analytics Economy!

By 2025 there will be 5.25 robots for every 1000 humans: take a look at how autonomous bots can augment us here:

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