The threat from software robotics

By Dr Peter Chadha, CEO of DrPete Technology Experts

If cinema has taught us anything, it’s that we should never trust robots. Whether they are rising up to protect us from ourselves or coming back through time to deploy cheesy catchphrases, mixing robots and humans never ends well. Although these fears are yet to come to pass, there is also a warning of a different threat from robotics, more specifically, software robotics…

Robotics has now extended from the physical, into the digital world of coding. Software robotics can be basically described as artificial intelligence, “deep thinking” algorithms. These complex self-learning combinations of mathematical formulae and computer code are now beginning to dictate everything from website search rankings to the items prioritised on your daily news feed.

Software robotics are also starting to have a positive impact not just on your social media, but also on data-heavy businesses. In some cases this is simply about reducing the amount of human data entry and re-keying required for regular tasks.

At a more sophisticated level, where organisations use data warehousing, software robotics will combine and integrate the systems for optimal efficiency. For example, in one call centre that we are aware of, customer service agents have to access up to 16 individual systems to get the complete ability to service the customer phoning in.

Software robotics can as the “interpreter” bring this down to a simple interface by undertaking all of the heavy lifting so that the operator can work through the software robot interpreter. However, in developing software to access the data, programmers need to create further algorithms to interpret data itself. Here, again, robotics could overcome this time-consuming challenge.

But when taking software robotics to the next level and combining it with Big Data analysis and smart multimedia technology (such as webcams, smart watches or smart glasses) a more concerning future begins to emerge. Most employers make no secret of the fact that they look at a potential employee’s social media activity as part of the interview process. Software robotics could take this personal privacy invasion to a whole new level.

Today, so much personal data, including images and video, is recorded and held on the internet and easily accessible by software robots. Combine this with the latest self-learning algorithms with physiology monitoring technology (such as pupil monitoring and face recognition) and you have the makings of the perfect lie-detector. Research has shown, most of us struggle to get through a ten minute conversation without lying at least once. Software robotics could add a whole new dimension to job interviews, or even board meetings, where a raised eyebrow could mean the difference between a multi-million pound profit or loss.

Without doubt, software robotics are a double-edged, ethical sword. On the one hand, it could lead to higher and more accurate productivity; better recruitment and retention; a significant reduction in fraudulent transactions or misguided business decisions. On the other hand, are we headed for a world where business, consumer and personal choices and freedoms are constrained and our lives are dictated by whether the computer says “true”, or “false”?

Will these developments lead to a more open, honest world? Or an Orwellian nightmare? I’ll leave it to the sci-fi writers to decide…

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