Most workers don’t fear robots: Microsoft

Trevor Chappell
(Australian Associated Press)

Most employees don’t feel threatened by robots and artificial intelligence and want to be included in the “digital transformation” of their workplace, according to research commissioned by Microsoft.

But the Microsoft survey of nearly 1,400 workers in health, retail, financial services and manufacturing also shows that few of those workers feel that management engages them in the transformation process.

Microsoft Australia’s digital workplace and collaboration manager, Ian Heard, says digital transformation can simply be viewed as taking the inputs and outputs of a business and using technology to reduce the time between the two.

He says most workers are already used to the digital world through their use of smartphones and a multitude of digital devices at home.

They also understand that automation and artificial intelligence-enabled systems are needed to make their workplace more efficient and the business more competitive.

The survey, conducted in September, says there is scant evidence that workers in “first line” customer-facing or production roles such as nurses, retail assistants and production workers feel that they will be replaced by a robot or a machine.

Sixty-two per cent of first-line workers want to work with intelligent automated systems.

“First-line workers absolutely see a great opportunity to work side by side with technology,” Mr Heard told AAP.

“For example, 85 per cent of first-line healthcare workers believe that technology can streamline processes, freeing them up for more direct patient care.”

“It’s not a case of scaling down the workforce – it’s more a case of elevating the workforce to be more customer-relevant.”

Mr Heard said that as automation replaces rote work, the role of workers who used to perform such work will evolve and require more human interaction and knowledge-based expertise.

For example, in the retail environment, technology can free staff to provide a better shopping experience for customers, which bricks-and-mortar shops have to do to compete against online.

And as digital organisations become increasingly data-dependent, a person whose job used to be collecting data may become an analyst of that data.

However, 61 per cent of workers don’t feel that management is consulting them about how they can be involved in the digital transformation.

“Digital transformation is powerful, but everyone needs access,” Mr Heard said.

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