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When to hire a robot: Robotics have reached their tipping point, according to International Data Corp. In a newly-released research report, the firm forecasts a near doubling of the worldwide robotics market over the next 4 years — from $71 billion in 2015 to $135.4 billion in 2019. Almost simultaneously, President Obama sent The Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisors to Congress. It says advances in robotics technology are “presaging the rise of a potentially paradigm-shifting innovation in the productivity process.”
Tongue-twisting alliteration aside, this feeds fears that robots may eventually replace most employees (a thesis argued persuasively by Mark Ford in his award-winning book, Rise of the Robots). But how should your company use robotics between now and then? One answer, highlighted in two recent stories, is to hire robots for supporting, rather than primary, roles.
Mercedes-Benz came to this conclusion in a backward sort of way. As the company expanded the number of models and options it offers, it discovered that its existing assembly-line robots could not be adapted quickly and economically enough. So it’s hiring people to replace some of its robots, report Elisabeth Behrmann and Christoph Rauwald in BloombergBusiness, and equipping them “with an array of little machines,” a solution that the car maker calls “robot farming.”
Mark Rolston, the cofounder and chief creative officer of argodesign, sees the design industry following a similar strategy. “It’s easy to see how an AI-infused computer algorithm such as the future Netflix — after a human has completed the initial design and programming — could do the hard work of improving and evolving to accommodate user preferences largely on its own,” he writes in Fast Company’s Co.Design. “Moreover, 90% of product design today happens in the ‘fat middle ground’ between purely aesthetic and purely technical — incrementally tweaking designs, optimizing column widths, and experimenting with color schemes. These tasks are bread and butter for much of the design industry, and they are progressively being automated.”
Shall we play a game? Whether or not you buy the thesis that Millennials require a new kind of management, their lifelong exposure to video games certainly makes them prime fodder for the gamification of the workplace.