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The rise of robots: striking the balance between humans and machines

24 Oct 2019
Shali Thilakan

Shali Thilakan

Regional Director Middle East & Africa at Vodafone Global Enterprise

It’s no secret that Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and increasing automation is all around us.

From automated passport control at airports, to how you order in a fast food restaurant, to online chatbots – human to machine interactions are real and no longer something from a futuristic movie.

Some are calling AI “the new electricity” as it becomes more widely adopted and begins to take on a crucial role in business and society as a whole.

However, while the future of this technology is exciting, there is also a lot of concern around the impact this will have on the way we live and work. Some theorists are even asking; are robots going to take over the world?

This made for interesting discussion at a recent round table in Dubai that I took part in, alongside executives from the regions’ largest multinational companies.

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Photo: David Rodrigo, Unsplash

AI in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to Artificial Intelligence.

With government initiatives encouraging widespread adoption of new and emerging technologies such as cognitive systems and machine learning, there are now many of use cases in both the public and private sector.

European customers have come to expect automated banking services and chatbots to improve customer experience, The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai has taken this up a gear.

The RTA uses smart parking meter devices, equipped with AI features, to issue e-tickets and monitor the city’s paid parking zones.

The police in Dubai are also benefitting from several smart technology projects, including a self-driving motorbike, a police chatbot, robotic officers and even an AI clinic.

And far from being a novelty to wow visitors, it is predicted that AI will boost the Middle East’ economy to the sum of $320 billion by 2030.1

A figure hard for the rest of the world to ignore.

The future workplace

When considering this figure, the first thing to address is that AI does not mean unemployment for the masses.

When humans work alongside technology it can enhance productivity, efficiency, accuracy and customer experience.

For example, at Vodafone we integrated an AI-driven customer service agent called TOBi each of the countries where we do business.

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Photo: TOBi

TOBi was introduced to make our customer’s lives easier; reflecting the shifting preference to self-service and to improve their customer experience by giving them the most direct route to the answer of their question.
 
If TOBi has the answer, he can help solve the problem quickly. If not, he will seamlessly hand over to a human adviser. In each case, we make it clear whether the interaction is machine or human and the objective is to complement the human service experience, not replace it. The result is happier customers.

Realising the potential, safely

The consensus from the roundtable discussion was that, like any new technology, adoption means adaptation.

Also there was general agreement that AI is not going away and that organisations not embracing this technology will be left behind.

Successful leaders understand the benefits of balancing humans’ natural skills with AI’s efficiencies. But they also know that it’s equally important they take the right approach to both strategy and implementation, including drawing on expert advice and encouraging flexibility.

With the right support, organisations can use AI to improve their operations, creating new roles and increasing innovation, efficiency and productivity.

As well as remaining competitive and improving the top line, in this environment businesses can expect to attract the talent they need to thrive in this new ecosystem of human and machine.

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