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Human + Machine: The Robot Revolution Requires Human Design

Author: J.P. Gownder

Robots – in the form of artificial intelligence, software bots, intelligent assistants, customer self-service solutions, and, yes, physical robots – are transforming our economy, our jobs, and how we serve our customers.

Our research on the robot revolution shows:

  • Economic and job disruptions. We forecast that, by 2027, the US economy will lose 17% of jobs, but will also add 10% equivalent as part of the automation economy – leading to a net loss of 7% of jobs. Automation, more than any other factor (including the much-discussed immigration effect), is transforming both the macroeconomic job market and how organizations organize to deliver experiences and products to customers.
  • Innovation with automation. Companies like McDonald’s (with its forthcoming investment in customer self-service in 2,500 restaurants), Delta (with its decades-long journey toward automation via kiosks and customer self-service), and Lowes (with its LoweBot, a physical robot that can answer questions about inventory and even take customers to the right location) are innovating by pushing the boundaries of customer-facing automation.
  • The rise of AI-first strategies. Leaders in the technology industry have openly heralded a commitment to move from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has made it clear that AI is the future of his company, full stop. The Chinese search giant Baidu agrees. And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivered a keynote at Microsoft Ignite describing how AI will power both an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge, creating a new computing paradigm to solve business problems.

I’ve been analyzing the robot revolution for several years, and I was excited to deliver a main stage keynote at our Customer Experience Forum San Francisco: Human + Machine, October 19-20.

The automation revolution isn’t totally new; in one form or another, it’s progressed since the 1970s. For much of that period, enterprises have implemented automation technologies to cut costs. But the rise of AI and ubiquitous computing have accelerated the robot revolution, rendering a command of automation a core competency for enterprises in 2017.

In the age of the customer, the biggest opportunity for leveraging these new technologies is customer engagement: Deploying solutions that delight customers with proactive, automated service, or that help them better serve themselves at their own convenience. But customer engagement offers both promise and peril; CX professionals know that cutting costs and customer obsession can be diametrically opposed goals if executed incorrectly. Even worse, automated solutions by their very nature can leave customers cold unless the experience is humanized.

So, in my keynote, I presented the human dimensions of experience design that are necessary to turn the robot revolution into a customer-obsessed strategy. I shared out examples of AI and robotics done well… and several other examples where automated solutions totally missed the mark. And I offered recommendations about how humans and machines can work together to create value for both your organization and for customers.

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J. P. Gownder is VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves infrastructure & operations professionals. 

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