Robots in the workplace: are your days really numbered?

Written by Holly Trueman

Earlier this year we looked at the subject of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace (The robots are coming: let’s face the music and dance) and now we’ve returned to the topic. Here at Enigma, we like to think we’re the best at everything we do. But as technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, is anyone about to be replaced by a robot?

You arrive at passport control and within moments, you’re welcomed into the country by a friendly border agent. She works tirelessly, never requesting a lunch break and continually doing over-time. Why? Because she’s an automated machine.

In an age where the safety of our borders lies in the hands of robots, we can assume that Britain is on the brink of a technological revolution. Technology is rapidly becoming complex enough to out-perform humans in hundreds of tasks. What does this mean for the staff at Enigma?

Automated copywriter

I asked Sean, our head of content, if a robot could replace him at work.

He argues that there’s no denying that robots can produce written content. “Ask a robot to create a piece based around facts and figures – easy. However, ask a robot to inject humanity into a piece – not so easy,” he explains.

He believes that a fundamental part of human nature is storytelling – engaging with the imagination, making connections that have never been made, and of course, evoking emotion. “A robot is never going to be able to do all of the ‘good stuff’,” he concludes.

However, I took a little look at WordSmith – a platform that provides so-called robot journalists to organisations. Sites such as Yahoo! have been using WordSmith to write their sports stories and reports for a while now, and although the content is largely data-driven, this could be bad news for copywriters. Not only can WordSmith replicate persona to some extent, it can complete articles significantly faster than humans.

Artificial intelligence 1, humans 0.

Robots with personality

Next, I spoke to one of our account managers, Lauren.

She said that robots could undoubtedly perform her admin tasks – such as completing timesheets and invoices. “However, they couldn’t build and maintain client relationships, primarily because persona and emotion are essential,” she argues.

But could persona be replicated?

I shifted my attention to Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant who is renowned for her sense of humour. Say “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” to Siri and she responds, “Snow White? Is that you?” This automated, witty response suggests that robots can replicate persona.

What’s more, the more you interact with Siri, the more she learns about your schedule, your tastes and your interests. Once she knows this, she can work alongside you and serve your needs. If Siri can satisfy our basic needs, could she please a client? There’s some food for thought.

It’s 2-0 to artificial intelligence.

Web without the human touch

Next up was Steve, who’s a front-end web developer.

Front-end developers translate creative ideas into a language that computers can understand. If a robot can translate a foreign language into English, could it translate ideas into code?

Steve said that his job could sit alongside automation, but never be consumed by it. He explains, “Shortcuts are already upon us; simply right-click and basic code can be added.” However, since there are countless ways to browse the web – on your iPhone, your Samsung, your Kindle – there’s no single screen resolution that a robot could target, and therefore there’s no one-size-fits-all code.

But how many websites are still built from scratch? Hundreds of websites now utilize CSS Frontend development frameworks. If we have access to grid-based layouts for free (on sites such as WordPress) surely the future of web development sees us just add content and click publish.

Does that mean artificial intelligence is winning 3-0?

Digital design

Lastly, I spoke to our creative director, Ant.

Ant noted that his job began with pens, magic markers and a drawing room. “Flashforward 25 years and there’s not a magic marker in sight,” he adds. Since the job is now largely reliant upon technology, I wondered whether a robot could soon perform it.

Firstly, the key to the job is in the job title – creative. To be creative is to be innovative. Robots can replicate, creating content based on data, but they cannot innovate. So, if creativity is a top-quality design requirment, humans aren’t out of a job.

However, Ant explains that heat maps can analyse the way that people behave on a device. “If we can track where people click/hover and see which colours/words they’re attracted to, then data-driven design is upon us.” Using image recognition techniques, images can be automatically cropped and filtered, again removing the need for humans.

So, it seems that it’s 4-0 to artificial intelligence.

Nowadays, robots are much closer to science-fact than science-fiction. Automation isn’t about being lazy, it’s about being efficient. And if these robots could increase the workflow in Enigma, they ought to be welcomed with open arms. But don’t worry guys, I think we’ll keep you around – for now!


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