Robots seem to be everywhere these days—on the big screen in popular science fiction movies, in books and in toy stores, and also in a real way improving our workplaces and other aspects of our daily lives.
Primitive robots were machines designed to automatically perform a specific task. Around 3,000 B.C., Egyptian water clocks used human figures to strike bells on the hour. Another inventor, Archytas of Tarentum, was reported to have created a wooden pigeon that could fly in 400 B.C.
Robots have become significantly more sophisticated in modern times.
The first industrial robot was introduced in 1961 by General Motors in an automobile factory. Since then, many manufacturing industries have designed robots to do work that is too dangerous for humans or that can be done more quickly and consistently by machines.
Today, robots have evolved beyond physical motors and mechanical arms and manipulators to include software robots that can assist consumers and employees, helping them to do more tasks more easily. These robots can perform pre-programmed tasks or even leverage artificial intelligence to help them think and learn.
It’s a way to combine the convenience of automation with the work of today using computers and software programs. Here are some examples:
- Virtual agents, virtual assistants and chat bots: These non-human software programs “live” on websites or within mobile apps, leveraging interactive, context-aware knowledge bases to answer questions from humans. Virtual agents are often used to extend and enhance self-service options for customers, answering basic questions and helping people find additional information for a particular need. Often these functions are visually represented as an avatar to make them more “friendly” and to reinforce the company’s brand identity.
- Desktop automation: This software automates tasks to help improve employee productivity, completing steps more quickly and performing data reentry across systems. Some versions of the software can also help guide employees through tasks, displaying dialogue boxes providing instructions, presenting scripts to be read to customers and other important information.
- Robotic process automation: This software completes end-to-end processes or tasks within longer processes that don’t need to be performed by a human employee. Typically these are high volume, repetitive tasks involving data entry or re-entry across systems based on specific decision criteria and logic.
Why robots? Because just as we continue to invent cool new gadgets and technology that make our lives easier, better or more fun, software robots can be used to handle work previously done by humans to help us get it done faster, less expensively, and more consistently and accurately.
This applies to customer service chat bots, desktop automation and robotic process automation. And, there’s an even bigger benefit in most cases—human employees can shift from the more boring and repetitive tasks to more value-added customer-facing work, continuing to learn new skills as the knowledge workers of the future.