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News

Big Job Ahead for “Smart” Service Robots

Asian Robotics Review
10.10.2020

"Global study suggests 82% of people believe Robots can support their mental health better than humans."

Robots for the Rest of Us

World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2020. Only a day!? That’s the first sobering thought that springs to mind. World Mental Health Year is more of what’s needed these days.

Even a year, given the profound changes that have taken place in both the workplace and on the home front, is all too short a time to even begin to gather together what’s happened to us in this pandemic. Let alone do something constructive about it.

Only a Day?

When “68 percent of people would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work; and when 75 percent say AI has helped their mental health at work by giving them necessary information for their jobs automating tasks, and reducing stress,” it’s more than a tip-off that something big is going down that needs attention pronto.

Machines counseling willing, human workers is an astounding turn of events. Many of these same human workers are the ones who dread the robot takeover of their jobs and livelihoods.

COVID and the blended life/work style it created have witnessed lives blurred between “personal and professional worlds with people working remotely, 35 percent of people are working 40+ more hours each month and 25 percent of people have been burned out from overwork.”

Yet: “Despite perceived drawbacks of remote work, 62 percent of people find remote work more appealing now than they did before the pandemic, saying they now have more time to spend with family (51 percent), sleep (31 percent), and get work done (30 percent).”

The global study from Oracle & Workplace Intelligence titled “As Uncertainty Remains, Anxiety and Stress Reach a Tipping Point at Work” has dug up some amazing reactions from over 12,000 people surveyed worldwide.

“COVID-19 has negatively impacted the mental health of the global workforce, with 7 out of 10 people saying this has been the most stressful year of their working lives. On top of health worries and complex family dynamics, 4 out of 10 people say they are also battling everyday workplace stressors like the pressure to meet performance standards, routine and tedious tasks, and unmanageable workloads:

  • 84 percent of workers have faced challenges while working remotely, with the biggest factors being no distinction between personal and professional lives (41 percent) and dealing with increased mental health challenges like stress and anxiety (33 percent).
  • Only 18 percent of people would prefer humans over robots to support their mental health as they believe robots provide a judgement-free zone (34 percent), an unbiased outlet to share problems (30 percent), and quick answers to health-related questions (29 percent).
  • 68 percent of people would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work and 80 percent of people are open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor.
  • 75 percent say AI has helped their mental health at work. The top benefits noted were providing the information needed to do their job more effectively (31 percent), automating tasks and decreasing workload to prevent burnout (27 percent), and reducing stress by helping to prioritize tasks (27 percent).
  • AI has also helped the majority (51 percent) of workers shorten their work week and allowed them to take longer vacations (51 percent). Over half of respondents say AI technology increases employee productivity (63 percent), improves job satisfaction (54 percent), and improves overall well-being (52 percent).

That bears repeating:

Over half of respondents say AI technology increases employee productivity (63 percent), improves job satisfaction (54 percent), and improves overall well-being (52 percent).

Just When We Need Them Most

Okay, so we see AI in the workplace making 50 percent of workers feel a direct benefit with productivity, job satisfaction, and well-being. That’s a powerful presence.

But where are the service and personal robots, either at work or at home, that can provide the assistance that workers are looking for? Those “68 percent of people [who] would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work and 80 percent of people [who] are open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor.

The Oracle & Workplace Intelligence survey exposed an addressable marketplace that is massively global and looking for help.

Problem is, there aren’t any service or personal robots ready and capable of taking on the challenge.

Maybe they should be as Cynthia Breazeal describes: personal robots for “Relational AI”— “AI that can understand us as people and treat us as people.”

It’s a mega-opportunity for the robotics community to take on. Infusing service robots or personal robots with AI could well be the harbinger of a behemoth industry.

Read the full story and more related stories in Asian Robotics Review

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