‘Bots’ as helpers, not foes


    A sober call for Filipino workers and industries to prepare for the coming of intelligent machines to improve the efficiency of our systems came largely unnoticed recently amid the constant bickering across the nation’s political and social media spectrum.

    The warnings did not come with alarm bells as though we all faced the risk of losing our jobs to robots next month or next year.

    But they called us to recognize the inevitability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) invading our workplace and causing workforce disruptions in the foreseeable future, supposed to be for the better.

    Japan, for instance, has shown how AI could work for its tourism industry. Two years ago, an English-speaking dinosaur-faced receptionist started welcoming guests to a local hotel. Visitors who preferred to speak the local language had the choice of being assisted by a Japanese female humanoid with pretty flapping eyelashes.

    In a chain of hotels across the United States, it has not been uncommon since 2016 for hotel guests to call for “Relay,” the room service robot, to deliver their Starbucks coffee or a new toothpaste tube right outside their door. Relay doesn’t mind posing with you for a selfie for your social media friends to envy.

    Nearer our shore, the M Social Hotel in Singapore launched just two months ago its own room service bot, AURA, to deliver amenities for guests, or operate an elevator for them.

    Then of course, right here at home, chatbots, online purchases and transport network services such as Uber and Grab already manifest a slowly creeping disruption to our daily transport routine, as pointed out by Monique Pronove, chief executive officer of property consultancy firm Pronove Tai.

    But the Philippines has a big unemployment problem with a rapidly growing population of young fresh graduates joining the labor force each year. Understandably, the emergence of AI as a tool to improve work efficiency creates anxiety among the not so highly skilled workers and new jobseekers.

    The forecast is that AI adoption could surge in the Philippines within the next five to 10 years, as it recently did in the more advanced Asian neighbors.

    As a way of preparation, Pronove suggests workers under threat upgrade their skills or focus on jobs that require “human touch.”

    “We have to be cognizant of the fact that [AI disruption] will cause unemployment,” she said. “We just really need to up-skill ourselves. We have to look at jobs where we can add more value than what a robot does.”

    Instead of being paralyzed by fear of the robots’ coming, our industries and workers can start preparing to welcome AI, seeing it in proper perspective, adapting to it skillfully and harnessing its use to our advantage.

    “Automation, in a way, is a good thing if you harness it correctly. You need to be prepared to be the operator of the AI or the automation,” said Itamar Gero, founder and CEO of TrueLogic Online Solutions. “It is possible to expand and strengthen our business with automation without the need to cut jobs,” Gero told reporters earlier this past week in a chance interview on the sidelines of a technology innovations competition. “We never reduced the number of employees. We just grew through automation and innovation.”

    Chinese innovator Jack Ma of online shop Alibaba fame has a different take on AI, putting his trust more in the human mind, and what he calls the “Love Quotient.” He believes in the human ability to out-think machines in finding solutions to the direst global issues of today.

    We believe in the resilience of the Filipino spirit and his ability to connect with peoples of other cultures, absorb new knowledge and provide the warmth of human touch no artificial intelligence can fake.


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