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By Brandon Marsico, Lucas Systems

Make no mistake, robots have made significant strides over the decades in automation. After having just returned from the Automate 2024 conference in Chicago, I am blown away by some of the impressive robotic and automation tech that was on display. After walking up and down seemingly endless aisles of robotic arms and humanoid-like robots akin to something you might see in Star Wars, I was still left thinking, “How practical is all of this stuff and are humans really justified in fearing this technology?”

I fiercely remain in the camp that humans AI, robots, and other automation tech will exist symbiotically with each other and only enhance each other’s capabilities instead of replacing them.

Here’s why…

Task Focus vs. Emotional Intelligence

Robots excel at repetitive tasks, they don’t get tired, they don’t get complacent, and can learn to improve performance. In fact, according to a recent survey, 62% of manufacturing organizations are either establishing or exploring/experimenting when it comes to AI adoption. Using technologies such as intelligent automation (IA), which combines robotic process automation (RPA),  and artificial intelligence (AI), you can eliminate manual, repetitive tasks that hinder your employees and optimize end-to-end processes.. AI excels at finding knowledge sources on the fly and learning patterns in data that humans can’t do very well. Things like inventory management, production scheduling, maintenance management and route planning are all places that AI and robotic process automation can bring optimized results and free your employees to perform more high-value tasks.

However, in many cases, robots still lack the nuanced judgement, creativity, and ability to think abstractly, or intuitively, to solve whatever problems they are facing.

As a veteran who served in Afghanistan, my mind immediately goes to the idea of deploying weaponized robots to combat zones. While the robot may be able to aim and shoot perfectly straight every single time without fear, how can the robot determine who is a combatant versus a non-combatant? These decisions require a far more complex thought process that simply can’t (yet) be translated into predefined algorithms for the machine to act upon. Determining a threat and how to react is the ultimate test in empathy and emotional intelligence which robots simply do not have.

While this might be an extreme example, it perfectly shines a spotlight on one of the glaring weaknesses of robotics and why they will not be outright replacing humans any time soon.

90-95% of the decisions we make as humans are based on emotion and how we as individuals process external stimuli. There are personal beliefs and morals that also deeply influence the decisions we make and how we approach challenges.

Imagine a robot that dispenses pain medication in a hospital setting. The robot may be programmed to only give its assigned patient a specific dose at specific time intervals. However, what if the patient is experiencing higher pain than what the medication can properly relieve? A human can assess this need by examining a multitude of variables such as patient movement, tone of voice, numeric measurements, facial expressions, professional experience, and a healthy dose of empathy to understand the discomfort the patient might be feeling.

The Future Workforce

Now, I am not saying that robots in their current state are useless and have no future, nor am I saying robots are so good they will take over our jobs. Quite frankly, the possibilities are endless for how they can actually enhance our lives and our careers, as touched upon earlier in this article. Contrary to popular belief, I believe robots and AI will create more jobs and enhance the ones we are already doing, not replace them.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, the highest job growth in the coming years is expected in roles that require human skills. These include vocational education teachers, agricultural equipment operators, and heavy truck drivers. These jobs involve physical dexterity, judgment, and communication—areas where humans excel and where robots continue to lack. Also, the World Economic Forum predicts that AI will replace over 85 million jobs but create over 97 million new jobs by 2025. I find this a fascinating fact as well and it’s something I always gave thought to when reading or listening to critics of robotics and AI. It takes people, human intuition and abstract thought, to design, build, manufacture, sell, market, optimize, maintain, and operate with high efficiency these technologies. We can only expect these functions to proliferate as the technology further develops. These are simply tools to allow people to propel past their human potential, but that isn’t possible without maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the tech.

Human and Robot Collaboration

Cobot (or collaborative robot) might be a term and concept that many robotics and automation critics are not familiar with. The key differentiator with cobots versus robots is that they are designed to actually enhance our capabilities by working alongside us in a shared workspace improving worker safety and productivity through sharing the workload. Cobots in warehouses, for example, are typically needed for repetitive tasks such as monitoring inventory levels, assisting with picking, putaway, and return processes, and automating packaging and palletizing.

Just a few of the robotics uses cases that have brought value already are;

  • Automated Packing Machines: Package items efficiently and consistently, reducing manual labor.
  • Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): for Material Transport: Move goods within the warehouse, reducing the need for human-operated forklifts and carts. They can also be used for order fulfillment and to transport picked items to packing stations or shipping areas.
  • Automated Sorting Systems: Sort parcels and products based on size, weight, and destination using conveyors and robotic arms.
  • Cycle Counting: Perform regular inventory checks to ensure accuracy without interrupting operations.
  • Stock Replenishment: Detect low inventory levels and automatically restock shelves.
  • Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): Load and unload trucks and containers efficiently.
  • Robotic Palletizers and Depalletizers: Stack and unstack pallets with precision

Cobots also contain a multitude of sensors and advanced safety features that allow them to detect humans and obstacles to ensure a safe workspace for all. From my observations, cobots seem to be leading the charge into warehouse robotics and automation tech as many companies as of late have been finding out the hard way, you can’t replace human intuition and dexterity with a machine.

In conclusion, there is always going to be a need for human intuition and expertise that simply cannot be replaced by a machine.  We as humans possess a unique blend of skills, judgment, creativity, and emotional intelligence that only ensures we’ll continue to shape the future alongside our robotic and AI counterparts. As the old saying goes, “A tool is only as good as the hands that wield it.”

Brandon Marsico headshot

Brandon Marsico is a dynamic and analytical professional with a diverse background, encompassing nearly a decade of experience in strategic digital marketing and project management across various industries. A U.S. Army combat veteran, Brandon has transitioned his leadership skills and disciplined approach to the civilian sector, currently specializing in supply chain and distribution.

Throughout his career, Brandon has established himself as a natural leader with a proven track record of dramatically driving revenue, expanding market presence, and enhancing online visibility and positioning. His expertise lies in leveraging data-driven insights to build high-performance teams and design custom, scalable SEO strategies and digital campaigns that align with clients’ and organizations’ visions, missions, and long-term business objectives.

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