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The future of work: Fusion of humans, robots and artificial intelligence

The retail industry has certainly been through a lot throughout the entire Covid-19 saga and its still undergoing a lot of staffing challenges. Some workers refused to go to work because they are concerned about being infected by the Covid-19 virus. On top of this, the number of takeaways has increased dramatically, resulting in massive work load.

The industry has already been suffering from staffing shortages even before the Covid-10 pandemic and this pandemic only exacerbated the problem. So, some companies have decided to develop retail stores that are entirely powered and controlled by IT technology, such as the ones in Singapore. They call it AI-stores and the operations were designed to be cashier-less and checkout-free.

AI-Powered Retail Therapy

While most of the operations are powered by IT capabilities, humans are still required to replenish dwindling stocks and there is also limitations to how the IT capabilities could react to unforeseen circumstances.

Recently, Japan released their prototype robot that can be controlled remotely to replenish drinks stock. I think that this could augment the AI stores. This robot has a wider range of motions as compared to the stores’ mechanised fixtures. Workers who are concerned about being infected by Covid-19 can simply choose to work from home with this robot.

Plus, those who are differently-abled can now work with this robot to perform tasks that they could not perform previously. Managing the shift-work is also a major issue among management. With this robot, the manager can schedule tasks among different employees without concern about travelling time.

In a way, it is also much safer for the workers because they are not physically exposed to any potential high-risk situations (robbery?) as well.

The companies that worked on this robot are pushing for the next frontier in that they are coding more scenarios and improving hardware capabilities. This so that the robot can handle different types of products other than drinks.

While the prototype is just meant for the retail sector, the potential to extend this capability to other sectors is certainly possible. Funnily, the prototype initially comprised the robotic arm, carrier box and the motorised wheel system, and the “head” was later added on to make it more human-like to the customers.

This idea could also be extended to sectors like construction, manufacturing, maintenance work, healthcare and many other sectors as well. A company can simply set up this system in any parts of the world and access workers from anywhere. There is improved efficiencies in manpower allocation and cost-saving from having to deal less with visa applications (if the deployment is cross-border).

A lot of people focus on the idea that AI is going to exclude humans in the future of work but there are other possibilities as well.  I think maybe we should stop dwelling on how this technology could be weaponised. Instead of that, why not focus our attention on a positive future and manifest that possibility. This is a clear example of how humans, AI and robotics can come together in the future of work.

I am looking forward to the prototypes’ update. They will be announcing it soon. With this, we will be able to open up a new working environment to differently-abled people and embrace whoever was excluded from proper employment.

Imagine receiving a welcome-to-work mail package comprising the remote-controllers and googles and that is it, you can begin to start work in your room when your shift has begun!


Copyright © 2021 Zeng Han-Jun. All Rights Reserved.

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