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Automation, AI, and Humans

The age of automation dawned years ago. While fully autonomous, self-driving vehicles are yet to become part of everyday reality, automation technology has already transformed industries such as manufacturing, telemarketing, air travel, even retail stores.

Automation is made possible by software that uses a predetermined set of rules to perform routine functions. Unexpected changes in input data can cause an automated system to malfunction, requiring human intervention. If you’ve ever used an automated checkout at the grocery store and found yourself waiting for a store associate to validate an item the machine was unable to process, you’ve experienced automation’s limits.

Test automation is routinely used in software development to eliminate the need for (and potential mistakes made by) human testers. Computers are exact, and thus excel at repeating the same thing infinitely. Test automation, however, is often only as good as the person writing the test automation code. As the application’s code is changed or increased, the testing code must also be updated accordingly.

Although automation can manage routine tasks to save humans time and energy, it requires maintenance and human intervention to keep up with the changes in how routine tasks are performed. This is where AI comes into play.

AI - which can stand for Artificial Intelligence or Augmented Intelligence - is considered the next step beyond automation. AI runs on software that can continuously learn and improve. It is therefore equipped to analyze and assimilate changes on its own, without being told by a human how to handle a new scenario, as long as it is able to extract a pattern that meets its confidence threshold.

Both automation and AI are used by machines to perform specific tasks. AI especially is used to crunch massive amounts of data that humans have a hard time assimilating all at once, to discern patterns humans could easily miss. However, neither form of technology is designed to have general intelligence: the skills needed to analyze, gather, and infer meaning, or other high-level cognitive functions. Human intelligence shines at making abstractions, something machines are light years away from grasping.

Digital technologies have changed how we go about our daily lives, and we can expect AI and automation to have a similar effect on the world of work. But although these tools shape our roles and behaviors, they do not render humans obsolete. If you are interested in learning how to apply AI or automation to your business processes, contact the computer scientists at XorFox for a free consultation.

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