Is Automation the Answer to Everything?

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The Exela Blog

Is Automation the Answer to Everything?

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by Lauren Cahn

Given that Exela is a global leader in business process automation, you might be tempted to think we’re all about the “robot revolution,” a future in which machines have taken over all our jobs, and humanity is left to suffer a debilitating existential crisis. Sure, we believe it only makes sense to automate any process that works better, faster, and with fewer mistakes when performed by machines (even if a human is overseeing the work). But are we looking to entirely supplant humans with machines? Are we myopically imagining everything should be automated?


No. And no.


“I’ve been in the field of automation long enough to see that many of the most impressive advancements are still quite new,” noted Exela CEO, Ron Cogburn in an article he recently wrote for Forbes in his capacity as a member of the Forbes Tech Council.[1] To wit, driverless cars are actually happening. That said, Ron’s not convinced that’s even close to the edge of the envelope. “Something like machine learning promises to transform everything,” he explains. “In healthcare, researchers found that machine learning systems can correctly classify echocardiogram in 92% of cases--as compared to doctors, who can do so less than 80% of the time. For more on how tech can transform healthcare, check out our Q4 edition of PluggedIN, Tell Us Where It Hurts: How Tech Can Heal Healthcare.



As CEO of a business process automation company, Ron is naturally optimistic about this current “era of automation.” However, his optimism is tempered by his understanding that technologies can create challenges, even as they’re solving them. If you need examples, you need only look as far as robocall technology, which has likely turned your cell phone from a private communication haven into a global cold-call center...even as you looked on and thought to yourself, “I didn’t give out my number, did I?”


No, you probably didn’t give out your number, but that’s how “good” the technology is. It can glom onto unpublished phone numbers, create and exploit databases, and keep a low enough profile to escape enforcement by the FTC[2]. And that’s not even close to the most sophisticated automation technology available at the moment. For example, human resources professionals have been leveraging cognitive automation to identify job candidates before the job candidates even realize they’re open to a change in employment. That being said, Ron notes that the artificial intelligence used in automating candidate selection is as biased as the humans who program it. As a result, female candidates are often “discriminated against” by the algorithms intended to seek out the best job candidates. To put it another way, while cognitive automation is promising in the area of corporate recruiting, it can also end up enabling us to make worse decisions while believing they’re better.


“My goal isn’t to discourage anyone from embracing automation,” Ron clarifies. He’s merely tying to underscore that we have to be smart about so-called “smart” technology and not blindly assume it is superior to human reasoning.  To that end, he suggests considering carefully the end user experience, always asking, “is this innovation actually solving a pain point, or is it merely transferring it from one place to another?” He also suggests demanding customization when automating your business processes in order to ensure its underlying algorithms take into account what is unique about your business. Finally, he suggests considering whether automating any given process might lead to newer and bigger costs and challenges.


“Our automated future seems certain, but that doesn’t mean the evolution will be easy,” Ron points out. “Instead of treating automation like a panacea, companies should see it for what it is: a tool with tremendous potential.” As long as it’s deployed responsibly. 

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