Startup Grind
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Startup Grind

How Robots Can Help You “Work Smarter” and Be More “Human”

3 Benefits of Living & Working with Smart Machines

Last week, I was teaching business, technology and the law in Japan.

We were thinking about what the recent developments in robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology will mean for all our futures.

There is a widespread view that technology is a threat; something to be feared. We often hear that artificially intelligent robots will gradually take more and more jobs away, leaving humanity with nothing to do. We all fear the loss of control.

This kind of narrative highlights the potential risks of robotic technologies and the dangers of machines getting smarter and playing an increasingly human-like role.

The extreme version of this view is that artificial super-intelligence may make us irrelevant or eventually wipe us out, if we are not vigilant. Think Terminator or The Matrix trilogy.

I tend towards the opposite view.

Of course, there are risks, but the benefits of robots and other smart machines far outweigh the dangers.

The benefits I see, however, are not the obvious things, such as convenience or cost-savings. What is really interesting about robots and sentient machines is that they will create more opportunities for creativity.

So, here are three reasons why smart technologies benefit humans; or, how smart machines may actually help us to become a little more human.

1. Quality Time

Anyone who works in a modern office will be familiar with the experience of being bombarded with information. Email and other office technologies are the most obvious examples. We operate in an endless cycle of checking and responding to messages and other information. Breaking this cycle is really tough.

We have fallen prey to an unhealthy addiction to technology. Just count the number of times you check your smart phone every day.

This explains why there are a lot of pieces — on Medium and other platforms — which emphasize the importance of breaking this cycle:

No doubt this is good advice that we can all agree with. Constantly dealing with email and other information can be a source of enormous stress and burnout, and the obvious solution is to create some discipline and distance.

But changing these habits is much easier said than done. And for good reason. The reality of the modern working environment is that people expect an immediate response.

And if you don’t react immediately to work-related email, it just creates more problems. Either tensions emerge or people look for a response from someone else, creating further complications.

Responding quickly is usually in our self-interest. It is a good way to protect against such difficulties. This is one reason why it so hard to follow the advice about prioritizing other tasks.

And here is where robots and other smart technologies come in. Stuff that can be automated allows us time to do other things. It buys us more “quality time.” Technology will help us avoid burnout. Allows a focus on engaging activities and what you want to do.

2. Personal “Interaction”

Images of the future often suggest a world of robots that will be impersonal and de-personalized. However, there are some good reasons to be skeptical about this dystopian view.

In a connected world, there is much more information. There is also the rise of Big Data. And if large quantities of information are processed by algorithmically-driven smart machines then that information can be more “customized” and “personalized”.

The information that we receive in a connected world is more likely to be the information that we want or need. The individualization of information creates opportunities for more personalized forms of interaction.

On-line shopping — think Amazon — may not be perfect in recommending items, but we're getting there. Robo-advisors in banking and finance seem likely to offer a service that is much more customized to client interests than the standardized “check-the-box” responses we often get from “human-advisors”.

If the choice is interacting with a “soulless” machine or a rude person, the machine may be preferable. Humans don’t have the time to be “personal” anymore. In this way, machines can provide a personalized experience and a more personalized interaction is facilitated.

Student presentations at the end of the course I gave in Japan showed this aspect of our future. They developed business plans that emphasized personalized health care; a bike sharing scheme providing a customized bike, or a job platform offering tailored information for potential employees and employers.

Of course, there is a risk of a loss of privacy. But cyber security technology is also improving and will be better able to protect the space of privacy in the future.

3. Becoming Human

Ironically, robots and smart machines give humans more time to be more creative and to devote more time to others. It opens opportunities for focusing on the tasks that we do best, namely to imagine and then create a better world.

And it doesn’t stop here.

The world of smart machines will be a world full of ironies. It will not only change the relationship between man and machine, but also the way we interact with others.

Just think again about how we are spending our time responding to emails and use technology to interact with each other and you’ll find that we have often already become little more than robots; anonymous cogs performing mundane and routine tasks in the context of a de-personalized, “corporate” machine.

By freeing up time, reducing the risk of burnout and facilitating more personalized forms of interaction, robots and automation can help us to become a little more human.

A world of robots, in which repetitive work is automated, will increase the demand for creative and social skills. Nurturing and the ability to negotiate and sell will be at a premium in a world where routine tasks are outsourced to machines.

As robotic technologies take over the world and opportunities to be more creative increase, authentic storytelling — perhaps, the most basic human technology of all — will once again be important.

Life Lessons for Defining a Better Future

So, this is what I learned in Japan:

We should pro-actively embrace robots and smart machines and support the development of new innovations, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and smart contracts. These new technologies will create more opportunities for creativity.

This is probably one of the most important life lessons for building a new digital world in which we will all be healthier, happier and perhaps even better human beings.

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