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Welcome To The Team, Robot

April 19th, 2019

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Robots have arrived at over 170 GIANT Food Stores in Philadelphia and the surrounding region.
Credit: GIANT Food Stores

Everything around us seems to be getting smarter by the day—like smart refrigerators, driverless cars and robotic assistants. The “Internet of Things” (IoT), which is the internet-enabled network of everyday devices, has become prevalent in our lives, both inside and outside of the workplace. But with the rapid developments in recent technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), will these intelligent systems make human workforce redundant?

In other words: do we run the risk of being replaced by machines?  

Paul Pavlou, Milton F. Stauffer Professor at the Fox School, argues that instead of replacing us, AI and humans will work side-by-side to address some of the bigger problems that neither can solve alone. Popularly referred to as “Augmented Intelligence,” this concept focuses on the assistive role of AI to improve human intelligence, rather than computers fully taking over our jobs.

Man vs. Machine

While computers have the ability to collect, aggregate and analyze an enormous amount of data, humans surpass machines when dealing with ambiguity, vagueness and incomplete information. Augmented Intelligence recognizes these complementary strengths and problem-solving capabilities of man and machine. “This collaborative interaction between human beings and computers arises when IoT collects the data and AI tools perform calculations based on criteria determined by humans,” says Pavlou, who is also the co-director of Temple’s university-wide Data Science Institute.

For example, GIANT Food Stores has introduced “Marty,” a robotic assistant, to the 172 stores in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. The robot roams the store, seeking to identify and eliminate spills from foods, products or liquids. Other examples can be found in the retail industry, where location-based technology devices and eye-tracking devices can help optimize the placement of merchandise. Meanwhile, salespeople equipped with mobile devices can leverage personalized information in real-time to sell products customized to individual shoppers.

A More Human IoT

In the future of work, managers can embrace both the fully-automated and Augmented Intelligence solutions. This choice depends on factors such as the nature of the task, expected performance and the costs and risks of autonomous IoT solutions that would operate without any human interventions. For example, automated manufacturing, predictive maintenance and security IoT solutions may—cautiously—be fully automated. But in industries like healthcare, cybersecurity and financial technology, human oversight will still be crucial.

For the time being, appropriate IoT designs should maintain a reasonable level of human control and oversight, says Pavlou. “This will give us adequate time to get comfortable with delegating control to machines.” In the distant future, machines alone might dominate decision-making in most applications. However, Pavlou says, “It will be a fairly long time until this happens. Until then, major intellectual advances will be made by humans and computers working together.”

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