Moving Forward with Automation, Thanks to COVID-19

By Nick Epson on June 29, 2020

Many industries have already dipped their toe in the pool of automation – some have jumped all the way in while others are circling the water, contemplating how to join. A breadth of application for automation is at our disposal but because the technology is still young, many are waiting to assess the outcomes achieved by others before either making the dive or casually using the stairs to enter the water.

Moreover, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing a greater push to automate tasks and remove as much human interaction as possible. The world’s current “favorite” virus is creating pressure for companies to jump in the deep end as soon as possible.

While some companies are in full-swing using automation and others are standing at the threshold, it’s crucial we have as many conversations about this topic as possible right now because it’s complex on many levels. Let’s take a look at one particular industry then discuss some of the upcoming scenarios where we will be seeing more automation.

Automation in retail and a look a Amazon

We recently discussed how AI is being used in retail to solve pervasive problems inherent to human labor. In retail, staff can’t be expected to be available 24/7, informed on every issue, never bitchy, or quite simply, behave in the kind of mechanical way that’s needed to solve the majority of customer service issues.

If you look at Amazon as an example, customer service has been built from a “top-down” perspective which is reflected in their AI. You don’t need a sales advisor to recommend additional products that supplement your purchase – in fact, you may not want to add anything to your cart at all. From a customer perspective, this gives the customer a substantial level of control and circumvents those awkward “no thanks” conversations you need to have with sales representatives who are just trying to earn a living.

It might seem small, but isn’t it nice that you don’t have to feel guilty about not buying something when shopping on Amazon?

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon has faired quite well as everything about the company basically caters to the current state of affairs without even trying. Online ordering, contactless delivery, and access to everything under the sun have increased Amazon revenue which has drawn attention from onlookers. For retailers – pandemic or not – this is certainly a model that can and should be emulated.

AI automation from a bird’s eye view?

Of course, there are socioeconomic problems that could come with replacing people too soon and too fast.

To again reference entrepreneur, Andrew Yang, there is a great quote in his book The War on Normal People that reads, “The future without jobs will come to resemble either the cultivated benevolence of Star Trek or the desperate scramble for resources of Mad Max.” It’s important that we understand what’s on the horizon to determine what’s really at stake before moving forward.

We will see AI take a foothold in different industries at different paces. Governing agencies that responsible for regulation and enforcement will need to establish frameworks for autonomous software and machines as they become viable for implementation as production machines and services for each industry.

Because the market will do what’s best for the market – as it always has – business owners need to be as informed as possible. Another thing to consider is that we likely haven’t experienced our last pandemic where the benefits of automation will be invaluable.

Examples of AI automation in food Service, transportation, and clerical

Knowing what awaits us just around the corner will enable us to adjust and ultimately take advantage of automation technology in the best possible way while mitigating socio-economic problems that can arise as a result.?

One quick example highlighting a product we produced for MagicMoney shows that it’s possible to reduce human interaction at large venues through automation which is, overall, much healthier. While gatherings of any kind are not recommended during a pandemic, their automated system that automatically collects payment via an RFID-based system circumvents the exchange of currency (which is often filthy) and is inherently healthier than exchanging cash or cards with vendors.? Even in times of better public health, the less “touching” between people, the better.

Now, let’s take a look at some examples in industries aside from retail to see understand the impact of automation where all of which have application in the event of a pandemic.

Clerical and administrative. This isn’t an industry, per se, as this kind of work is necessary for virtually every business. It’s important to understand that even right now, it is possible to replace many people who file information and input data.

Looking at the big picture, it’s estimated that 60% of workers spend around 5 to 6 hours a week inputting data, whether it’s updating a spreadsheet or adding information to a CRM, among other data-entry tasks. Filing digital records, taking phone calls, and scheduling appointments can often be done, at least in part, by systems that use contextual-based systems to catalog information in ordinance with data regulation agencies. For example, the Presence AI system uses an Alexa skill that can book appointments without any human intervention for simple scheduling.

In other businesses, where there is more to the intake process than simply plugging a name into a calendar, some companies like Smith.ai offer a brilliant hybrid solution. Their system handles some complex tasks through automation, for example, checking conflicts of interest for law firms, and can pass off callers to a human when required.

Transportation. It might sound frightening to replace humans drivers with robots but it’s quickly becoming a reality. Take TuSimple as a good example – their robot-driven trucks were awarded a contract for the USPS to haul mail as part of a pilot program to replace long-haul couriers. The program was completed without incident where tractor-trailer vehicles successfully carried mail between Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas. Trips were completed in 22 hours of consistent driving – normally, this takes drivers a total of 48 hours because of human limitations and DOT regulation.

Other great examples include the Didi Chuxing robotaxi and WeRide self-driving program, both hailing from China. Each of these services has undergone testing on real roadways to determine the effectiveness of the AI automation system in place for navigating roadways. While Chinese law specifically mandates that there is a driver in the driver seat for any vehicle (super forward-thinking, right?) these companies have both demonstrated that their vehicles can successfully navigate complex roadways and random traffic without incident.

So far, China has had only one fatality when a self-driving Tesla Model S crashed in 2016, colliding with a slow-moving street sweeper that tragically killed the “driver” of the autonomous vehicle.

Foodservice. Many roles in the foodservice industry catch a lot of flack because there is a lot of repetitiveness to many tasks. Anyone who has worked in a fast-paced role in foodservice will tell you that these jobs are highly demanding. However, it doesn’t change the fact that these tedious tasks could be replaced with AI automation.

One such way we’re seeing this come to fruition is through robotic bartenders like Barsys. This system –priced at a mere $1500 – could replace much of the work typically required of a bartender. It can’t listen to your problems or change blown kegs, but it is a testament to the fact that mechanical foodservice processes like making cocktails or even line cook work could be replaced by highly-efficient machines.

Blue Label Labs is on the frontier of AI-based development

As a company that seeks challenges in design and outcomes, Blue Label Labs has implemented AI into a variety of the products that we’ve built for our clients. We intend to stay on top of this technology by embracing this and other innovative ideas. If you’d like to touch base with us to learn more about our development process and capabilities, click here to plug in your info.

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