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Human Beings v. Robots at Work

Posted by admin at 8:18 AM on Feb 6, 2018

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There has been some talk of robots replacing humans in the workplace in the media recently so I thought I would share some thoughts on this from the perspective of my current job in Reception.

An article shared on LinkedIn on 29th January predicted that 40% of jobs in the north would be lost due to using AI in industry. You can read more about the various jobs at risk here.

So could robots and machines completely replace humans in the manufacturing and service industry? We already have self-service tills in supermarkets. And why not replace Reception with an intercom to cut maintenance costs?

And yet GNP grew unexpectedly by 0.5% in the last quarter of the year in the UK. The cause of this economic boost? The service sector. Human beings, not robots, but human beings fed the increase in economic activity in the latter half of 2017.

Signposting Businesses

An intercom might allow instant access into a building but it can’t signpost lost visitors who are in the wrong building unlike a receptionist. We human receptionists also foster economic activity by allowing people to leave their business cards, leaflets and free samples. Quite a few of our tenants do ask about the businesses that have called by.

Indeed Reception staffed by humans is a great place to promote your business. Take someone who rents out artificial flowers for offices for example. They ask if they can leave their flowers for a trial period. This gets the go ahead from the building managers. Guests and tenants make positive comments about the flowers. A deal is made with that business owner. As the weeks roll by many people notice the hired flowers. They have a conversation with us in Reception about this. They pick up the business cards and that business starts to grow. Could a robot do that or an intercom?

A Listening Ear

As human beings we also cheer people up or simply ‘hold’ their emotions if they are stressed, running late or in a hurry. We ‘read’ our guests and tenants. This is not something AI can do. Reception work involves a lot of listening skills and at times sensitivity, discretion and confidentiality. Could AI convey to another human worker or visitor that they have been heard and their feelings acknowledged?

And what about knowledgeable banter? With Lee at 1 Colmore Row there’s a lot of football talk. Alas, if only Theology was a league sport too! Still, how many receptionists have a sense of the pulse in a church diocese or in the businesses-in-residence? Could AI converse with such passion?

Humans in Reception work with other businesses and human workers in the area to try to deal compassionately with the increasing number of vulnerable adults on the streets too. We keep an eye out for antisocial behaviour or signs of illness. We know what is going on with the individuals. The human grapevine travels fast. We know about RTCs, travel issues, burning buildings, weather predictions and up to date news from constant conversations. Would a machine be able to keep up?

In the supermarket self-service tills may be a convenient time-saver but will they ultimately replace human-beings? In our Western society loneliness is on the rise. For some isolated or elderly people the person at the checkout might be the only the person they have spoken to in days.

A human presence is still needed

I believe that although technology can be a wonderful thing; as living sentient creatures we human beings will always need other human beings at work, particularly in the service sector. Being at work is about building relationships as well as fulfilling a function. Relationships, trust, respect and honouring the presence of that other person enhances that service and without human interaction something very precious would be lost in an entirely automated workplace.