Immediately after the pandemic
Many companies want to invest in automation. However, current technologies require large investments and success depends on first-mover advantage. The high risk involved has slowed the adoption of automation: human labour is much cheaper and can carry out a greater variety of tasks.
As a consequence, most services are delivered by humans, with interactions that involve empathy: this affects the way that interactions and transactions take place.
COVID-19 led to many companies halting operations because it was unsafe for people to continue working. While essential services continued to run, there has been much scrutiny of worker safety. This has focused attention on the high risk of relying on human workers for certain operations.
Towards a post-COVID-19 society
Lockdown measures have created many opportunities for automation providers to prove their technologies in remote operations. Boston Dynamics’ Spot Mini helped hospitals to treat coronavirus patients remotely and enforce social distancing. An art museum in London trialled robot tours, where visitors could use telepresence devices. In Japan, students have been able to attend graduation ceremonies as robots. In the UK, Co-op has been trialling deliveries using delivery robots in Milton Keynes and is planning to roll out this service to more stores.
Companies have to make the decision as to whether it is worth accelerating their investment in automation and remote operation technologies. Governments need to decide whether to invest in the supporting infrastructure for automation.
Replacement of physical workers
Automation has a stigma among working people, who fear being replaced and losing their jobs. So the relationship between a company and workers will need to be carefully managed, because implementing automated systems will rely on people to make it work. Workers will also need to be assured of job security.
Remote operation and assisted automation will be the first steps towards the development of fully autonomous systems that will help workers do their jobs more efficiently and safely. This approach will benefit both company and workers. It will also allow for more inclusiveness in the workforce, for example by enabling elderly and disabled workers to feel more empowered. Companies will also have a wider choice of employees.
From a customer perspective, remote operation/automation will change service expectations. For example, a human can deliver goods directly to your doorstep. Deliveries by autonomous/remotely operated vehicles will require people to bring goods from the vehicle to your door.
As remote operation and assisted automation processes mature, the data collected will make it possible to understand risks and safety benefits, and machines will learn how to do the task in a way that enables fully automated systems. There will be resistance to full automation, and governments will need to support workers who might lose their jobs to it.
The new workforce will require a shift in skills and new types of job will appear that cannot be automated. City infrastructure will change to support automation. “Hand-offs” from various systems will be needed. For example. delivery robots will drop off packages to an apartment complex’s mailbox, and packages will then need to be “handed off” directly to your apartment.
A safer, resilient, robotic world
The perception that human interaction is preferable will disappear. Consumers will appreciate the convenience and reliability of automated services.
People will practice less empathy as they no longer need human interaction to use services. This will be accepted: convenience will outweigh the value of empathy.
The impact of decreasing empathy will start to become apparent. Life will start to feel less human and consumers will seek more than just a functional/transactional experience. Technology that simulates empathy will become important when interacting with people.
Automated services will start to develop character and simulate emotions. Continuity in service and customer relationships will be built. People will start to feel empathy for machines working for them. This interaction will also help develop trust between companies and consumers.