In November, I attended a conference organised by Freeman Clarke, a wonderful forward-thinking group of UK based IT Directors, CIO’s and CTO’s. The theme of the conference was the emerging role of Automation and Artificial Intelligence within the UK SME sector and it was fascinating.
There is no doubt whatsoever that emerging technologies will significantly improve our lives, both at home and in the work-place, saving us both money and time to boot.
Take call centre automation. The automation of business back office functions is transforming customer experience; those of us who have ever been stuck in the hell that is a phone /broadband provider/bank/amend-as-necessary call centre queue will know all too well that corporate customer service often leaves more than a bitter taste in the mouth. It now looks almost certain that across the next 2-10 years many call centre roles will be compromised, as automated customer service offers a far more efficient and satisfactory experience than the unpleasantness of having to listen to someone in a low-cost country refuse to deviate from a well-worn service script.
The cost of implementing the bot technology that will improve customer experience will almost certainly be less than the on-going human capital costs of running a call centre and so it’s almost a no-brainer that this kind of work-place transformation will prevail across many verticals of industry.
But at what cost? When we take away someone’s work, we also remove part of their identity and part of their ability to meaningfully and purposefully contribute towards society. Most research data around the job functions most vulnerable to automation shows that it is those generalist, lower-skilled roles that are most at threat. How easy will it be then for these workers to re-skill and re-enter the work-place?
We’re left with a dilemma. Whilst most of us want and crave improved customer experience, particularly when it comes to those hateful call centre queues, we also need to consider the social impact. I for one am a big fan of emerging technology; its potential for good is not to be understated. But I also believe, wholeheartedly, that when we make decisions around technology, we increasingly need to look at social impact, and have a conversation around what the opportunity cost to society might be. Let’s bring on socially responsible technology!