Transforming the Workplace with Technology


Last year, one of the winners of an Edison Award for Innovation was "Baxter". Baxter is a robot that for about USD $20,000 can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks. "He" is the first robot at this low price point that is very adaptable to a variety of functions. Joining the valuable products of iRobot, Baxter is among a growing line of reasonably priced robots that can be programmed to handle fairly simple repetitive functions.

"Sometime in 2010, we saw that everything had started to change", said Garry Mathiason, Senior Shareholder and Co-Chair of Littler Mendelson's Robotics, AI, and Automation Practice Group. He attended Singularity University (the brainchild of Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis), where he explored how these technologies will change the workplace forever. Mathiason forecasts that in 10 years, the firms largest group of clients will be those involved with issues tied to technology and its applications. Littler is the largest employment law firm in the world.  

Littler's preliminary report on the subject a 100-page while paper titled, "The Transformation of the Workplace Through Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Automation" is being distributed in advance to attendees of their full-day Roundtable on The Future of the Workforce, scheduled today (Wednesday, February 12th) in Washington, DC. The intention is to update the report again in May.

Related to Human Resources, one of the most advanced systems features Arya, identified as "the first recruiting robot". A virtual recruiter, Arya learns the search patterns used by its human recruiter/user. Then Arya scans the web, selecting candidates and independently arranging interviews. Part of the beauty of this technology is that it keeps the employer in compliance with the workplace laws that require employers to consider applicants equally.

Beyond Arya's advanced software is the robotic recruiter Sophie, a product of NEC that literally interviews human job applicants. Measuring only two-feet tall, these cute, members of the HR recruiting staff are intended to be "the ultimate objective job candidate evaluators". Sophisticated Sophie is programmed to not only ask and respond to questions, but also to measure an interviewee's physiological responses. We suspect that Sophie is just as capable as her cousin Siri.

A study conducted last year by researchers at Oxford University found that 47 percent of the job categories will be affected by advancing technology---some more than others. In the January 18th edition of "The Economist" in its special report on "The Future of Work", the jobs that will be most affected are telemarketers, accountants and auditors, retail salespeople, and technical writers*.  

In the years ahead, Mathiason forecasts that, "Many of the jobs will be performed by brilliant machines". The people who will definitely be employable will be those with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) backgrounds. Those in the Arts will need to have great facility with harnessing technology for artistic expression. ###

* Their source was "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?" by C. Frey and M. Osborne (2013). 
Herman Trend Alerts are written by Joyce Gioia, a Strategic Business Futurist, Certified Management Consultant, author, and professional speaker. Archived editions are posted at


Joyce Gioia is a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. Joyce is President and CEO of The Herman Group, a firm serving a wide range corporate, trade association and governmental clients on an international basis.

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