This ques­tion is asked often, are robots going to take our jobs? This is what a fac­to­ry pre­dom­i­nant­ly looks like. Hundreds of thou­sands of fac­to­ries all across the world. Whether this was 30 years ago or today, it’s actu­al­ly still a fair­ly anal­o­gous exam­ple. You have machines and peo­ple work­ing side by side.

What has hap­pened, though, over the last hand­ful of years is there is a dichoto­my of behav­iors hap­pen­ing. On one side, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is ush­er­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant increase in con­nect­ed machines, con­nect­ed prod­ucts. And at the same time, the peo­ple who are stand­ing next to these high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed machines are ulti­mate­ly con­nect­ed in their home lives. They car­ry a cell phone that’s man­ag­ing their smart car, their smart home, their smart sys­tems. But they have almost no inter­ac­tion with the sys­tems at work.

So think about this in our home lives. We go home, we are con­nect­ed to every­thing. But when we come back to work, we’re going back to in many cas­es paper. In some cas­es the com­pa­nies have dig­i­tized their work, but for the most part it’s a ref­er­ence tool. You’re stand­ing next to a machine; all of a sud­den you don’t know what you need to do next; you pull out your phone; you look some­thing up. You walk across the fac­to­ry floor; you log into the one or two ter­mi­nals that might be in the man­u­fac­tur­ing space and you look it up.

And what we find is that knowl­edge in this case of work gen­er­al­ly was accu­mu­lat­ed before you got to the job. Or it’s train­ing. So it’s your edu­ca­tion and you’re trained, but it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly high­ly transferable. 

In the mod­ern age that we’re enter­ing into right now, we’ve got an increase in pop­u­la­tion. But we’re also assum­ing that there’s going to be an increase in con­sump­tion. One of the fears, of course, is that we’re going to be replaced by this insur­gence of con­nect­ed machines. 

We’re also in the new nor­mal. This is the first time in history—and will con­tin­ue to be this way, I believe—that there are going to be and there are more con­nect­ed devices than peo­ple. And it’s grow­ing at a pace that is far out­seat­ing us. How does the machine world deal with that increase in pop­u­la­tion and the increase in con­nec­tiv­i­ty? We have machine learn­ing tech­niques. We have advanced AIs that start mak­ing sense of that data for the oth­er sys­tems, the oth­er inter­con­nec­tions. But how do peo­ple engage with that? 

What I’d like to do is show you an exam­ple, and this is from our own expe­ri­ences, where the appli­ca­tion of wear­able tech­nol­o­gy, aug­ment­ed and assist­ed real­i­ty, are open­ing up new oppor­tu­ni­ties for the human work­force to be engaged side by side with the autonomous work­force. And to do that I’m going to show you an exam­ple from Boeing.

Here Brian plays a pro­mo­tion­al video for APX Labs’ project with Boeing, view­able at their site (cap­tioned).

One exam­ple of many that we’re see­ing right now. The aver­age cus­tomer we work with, or oth­er peo­ple in our indus­try work with, we see dozens and dozens of use cas­es. General Electric, for instance, has over a hun­dred use cas­es where wear­able tech­nol­o­gy they believe can trans­form their busi­ness. And this is mea­sured from an eco­nom­ic stand­point on an incred­i­ble scale. Forrester Research’s JP Gownder esti­mates that by 2020 up to four­teen mil­lion American work­ers will have smart glass­es aid­ing in their man­u­fac­tur­ing, field ser­vice, and logis­tics oper­a­tions. And across the globe, rough­ly 50% devel­oped world has what you’d con­sid­er an uncon­nect­ed, desk­less work­force, that their only dis­ad­van­tage against robots in this case is access to information.

So we see in the man­u­fac­ture world, it’s com­plex access to infor­ma­tion. Could you get it? Could you see in real time? Could you remove that bar­ri­er to knowl­edge? In ship­ping and logis­tics, DHL is show­ing exper­i­ments where they’re get­ting between 15 and 20% improve­ment on the aver­age pick and pack time. And again, the scale of this from a world eco­nom­ic stand­point, SAP alone runs sev­en hun­dred thou­sand ware­hous­es around the world. 

And one of the things I think I found most excit­ing about where this future por­tends, speak­ing with lead­ers at AGCO recent­ly, and they were exper­i­ment­ing with wear­able tech­nol­o­gy. And this part real­ly kind of gave me an aha moment. They put smart glass­es on users who had nev­er built one of their trac­tors before, and raced them against the peo­ple who’d been doing it for years. And every time, they beat the pro, just by hav­ing real-time to access infor­ma­tion. It could be as sim­ple as what’s the torque val­ue on the bolt I’m about to put on? Or where does this part go? But you’re able to remove con­fu­sion. You’re able to remove the uncer­tain­ties. And that cog­ni­tive load is actu­al­ly the biggest chal­lenge in our workforce.

So what we think, and this is I think the part that’s excit­ing if you’ve been wor­ried about the rise of the robots. I think we have a very impor­tant part to play in a har­mo­ny of man with machine. It’s not about us hav­ing no future, it’s about remov­ing a bar­ri­er. It’s about hav­ing access to infor­ma­tion. And then it’s in the abil­i­ty to remove frus­tra­tion from the work­force. Enable them and empow­er them, and in turn unlock an amaz­ing amount of latent val­ue that exists in the human work­force today. So I believe that we’ll be com­pet­i­tive for many many years to come.

Further Reference

Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016 at the World Economic Forum site