Threat or opportunity?

Evaluate if robots can help your business grow

In 1962, Ray Bradbury wrote the famous dark fantasy novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

It was about a traveling carnival with a malevolent leader who tried to acquire the souls of the local townspeople.

Will today’s robots be evil or beneficial? We will know soon. It’s amazing how science fiction themes from the mid-20th century become realities today.

shutterstock_88812943How robots affect daily life

In June, the U.S. Army tested driverless technology with military convoys on Michigan highways. Google continues to promote driverless technology for daily car usage. Robots pilot seafaring ships.

Robotic dogs are being tested for military use as opposed to man’s best friend. Uber is disenfranchising its contractors by experimenting with driverless taxis. These are a few of the many ways robots are entering our personal and work environments.

Many inventions that have improved daily life are the result of military research and development. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and part of the U.S. Department of Defense, develops new technologies for military use. From 2012 to 2015, the agency hosted a robotics competition and challenged scientists to develop robots that could perform human tasks. Some critics thought it was unsuccessful because the time for the robots to perform some of the daily tasks was too great.

I believe they missed the most significant point: the robots did complete the tasks. It’s a question of whether they can perform the task, not how quickly and efficiently they can do it.

As history demonstrates, continuous improvements will reduce and eventually eliminate the gaps in performance. That’s why robots will continue to affect our daily social and business environment.

Implications for business and society

Consider driverless transportation. Ford recently announced plans to start autonomous taxi services in one city by the year 2021. Ford also said the self-driving car would not have steering wheels, gasoline or brake pedals.

Uber is launching driverless vehicles on a trial basis in Pittsburgh. Although there will be a technician and an assistant to review the test, driverless cars are here.

What will this mean for daily commute times? What will it mean for other modes of transportation, such as buses? If we can have driverless cars, why wouldn’t we have driverless semi trucks, ships or even planes? These potential changes also offer challenges to our labor market.

If you have never watched video of the Defense Department’s robotic dogs, I recommend that you Google the phrase “legged squad support.” The military has field-tested robotic dogs that can carry up to 100 pounds of ammunition and water alongside our soldiers in the field. YouTube videos show the robotic dogs in action.

Even the military and police forces have weaponized these robots. How did the Dallas police stop the sniper who killed five police officers in July? After a 45-minute gun battle and two hours of negotiating, they sent a four-wheeled robot equipped with explosives into the building where he was holed up.

On the more unbelievable side of things, people also are looking at using robots as human companions in many different forms. It’s a sad state when the emotional needs of people will not be met by other humans, but by robots.

How to know if robots can help you

How should your company address the potential impact of robotics and technology trends?

During your annual strategic planning, conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) or a PESTLE analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental). Also consider using a futurist or robotics expert, who can explore future applications or trends. Stay abreast of robot news through tools such as Google Alerts.

Even into the 1960s, buildings used elevator operators because it was too difficult to allow people to operate an elevator by themselves. Today, we just step in and press a button.

Should our vehicles be any different?

-Jim Lindell is a CPA, a chartered global management accountant and a certified speaking professional. He is the president of Dousman-based Thorsten Consulting Group Inc., which provides strategic and financial consulting, professional speaking, training and executive coaching. He has worked with a variety of industries and chairs two groups for TEC Wisconsin.

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Jim Lindell, CPA, CGMA, CSP is a Vistage Chair in southeast Wisconsin and president of Thorsten Consulting Group, Inc. He is an award-winning speaker and best-selling author.

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