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Robots – that was then, this is now


We’re accustomed to thinking of robots in certain ways. As children, we saw them as talking humanoids, and possibly as a little threatening. Later in life, we learned that no, they needn’t look like people at all, actually: think of all those robotic arms in car factories, for instance.

More recently, we’ve realized they may not necessarily take a physical form at all. Instead, they can be pieces of software, designed to perform set functions so that we don’t have to. A robotic process automation (RPA) routine can perform routine tasks, such as matching supplier invoices to purchase orders, before approving them for payment. It can also be trained to mimic human interactions with the system, such as mouse clicks and keyboard inputs.

And in today’s world? We’re seeing robotic functions evolving further still. Many of the RPA routines I’ve just described have been little more than functional replacements of human activity; but what we’re now seeing is the emergence of new, cognitive roles.

Instead of simply following sequences of prescribed procedures, RPA routines employing cognitive technologies can make assessments, check consistency, and take decisions about the best course of action to take next. As a result, transforming and then implementing processes is simplified, unnecessary activities are mitigated, and accuracy is significantly improved.

Looking ahead

All of this is where we are right now. In the future, we can expect to see further developments, in which RPA routines are used for fuzzy logic, machine learning, deep learning, and NLP, so as to achieve optimum efficiency. Benefits will be delivered quickly, effectively, and without increasing risk – and because the approach is non-invasive, no applications will need to be changed.

People won’t need to change, either – at least, not in a negative sense. Cognitive technology will be able to understand and anticipate their information needs, helping them to do a better, faster, and more accurate job. What’s more, it will be able to create a virtuous circle, by observing people’s actions in the light of new, improved information and processes, and finding additional ways to provide support. My colleague Lee Beardmore discusses this in his own blog post here.

On the face of it, it’s all a very long way from those robots we imagined as children. In practice, though, it’s not so very far at all. The robots we’re developing in business now may not look like people designed to serve us – but as I explain further in a page on this subject that I’ve contributed to the TechnoVision report, they certainly think that way, and act that way.

Threatening? No. Helpful? Most certainly.

Want to know the simplest ways to create a digital transformation in 2020? Download the TechnoVision 2020 report  to help you through the process.

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Miroslaw Bartecki is head of Capgemini’s Intelligent Automation Lab focused on adopting AI technologies into business services. He leverages the potential hidden in deep and machine learning to increase the speed, accuracy, and automation of processes.