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The robot revolution is here and it could transform your business

Hiscox logo Hiscox 10/09/2018 Chris Windle
© Getty Images

If you’ve seen Black Mirror on Netflix you may have decided to give up on technology, in fact you may be living in the woods, using only smoke signals and messenger pigeons to communicate with the outside world.

For those unfamiliar with the show each episode revolves around how technology could impact our near future, usually in a terrifying way. Metalhead, which follows a woman as she attempts to flee intelligent robot dogs hell bent on killing her and anyone else who crosses their path, is one particularly harrowing example. And it didn’t take long for videos of real life robot dogs created by Boston Dynamics to emerge and scare the hell out of everybody.

But businesses, especially small businesses that maybe reticent about committing to new technology, shouldn’t let scare stories, even really entertaining ones, stop them investigating how artificial intelligence (AI) and robots can improve how they work. In fact, most businesses are probably already benefiting from AI and machine learning without even thinking about it.

© Boston Dynamics

If, for instance, your business advertises on Facebook, the social media giant’s bots will analyse its customers’ data and work out which of its users to target, based on their likes, dislikes, the sites they visit and so on. As more data emerges it will refine the audience it sends messages to. Similar kinds of machine learning take place on Google, Twitter and other platforms.

Your company is also likely to have some kind of IT system (unless you really have moved to the woods), even if that system is just one battered laptop on a kitchen table. That system will be (or at least should be) protected by anti-virus programmes that’ll search every dark corner of a hard drive for malicious files and destroy them, without even being asked.

The point is, like it or not, we’re already living in a world augmented by AI so you might as well make the most of it. That doesn’t mean you should drop everything and invest in a fleet of self-drive cars or bionic waiters, but rather look at where valuable human time is being wasted doing relatively mundane, repetitive tasks. Small scale automation can make a big difference, and you’ll probably find there’s a piece of software ready and waiting to provide you with a cost-effective solution.

© Getty Images

Here are just a few ways bots could boost your business:

Virtual assistants – if there’s no budget for a PA, let Siri, Alexa or Cortana take some of the administrative strain. The Apple, Amazon and Microsoft voice activated systems know their way around the internet and will happily search it for you. Unfortunately they all make a terrible cuppa.

Cloud accounting – invoice management systems can really take the pain out of the payment process, they’ll also communicate with suppliers – so they know their payments are being processed and aren’t lost in your inbox – and self-learn how to streamline your accounting.

Human resources – reading through a huge pile of CVs is one of life’s great pleasures. Joking. It really isn’t. Luckily there are programmes that will pick out the most relevant candidates from the crowd. An AI system could even conduct a video interview for you. It’s probably wise to meet your potential new employee at some point though.

Customer services – bots can answer questions or send queries to the relevant person in the team. And they can hold the fort out of hours rather than leaving customers wondering if you’re ignoring them.

© Getty Images

Clearly, there’s plenty of scope to let AI into your business without having the Terminator on reception. Having said that, there are some industries in which it might be worth splashing out on exciting hardware to increase efficiency/play with – a drone that surveys and counts cattle might come in handy if you’re a farmer, for example.

The advantage of all these technologies is they leave humans with more time to do what humans are good at: being creative, coming up with solutions and interacting with other humans. Rather than replacing us the hope is robots become cobots – collaborative robots – that work alongside us, freeing us from the drudgery to focus on the fun bits.

And who knows what new and exciting job opportunities cobots could create? A report by Dell says that 85% of the jobs that’ll exist in 2030 haven’t been created yet. What’s more certain is that businesses that embrace AI will become more efficient, and they’ll be able to use the spare resources this creates to innovate and get ahead of the competition.

Not to mention the fact we’ll all have more time to walk our perfectly behaved robot dogs.

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