ADI: Despite Some Fear, People Are Positive About Automation

I have been fascinated by robots my whole life. Some of my favorite movies as a teen featured robots: “Terminator,” “Robocop,” “I, Robot,” and “Short Circuit” (I’m a huge Johnny 5 fan), to name a few. As an adult, I could truly use a housekeeper like Rosie from “The Jetsons.” And, of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the resurging popularity of “Star Wars” and its sequels. (The latest, “The Force Awakens,” is nearing $2 billion in revenue globally.)

It’s clear that robots are rockin’ it. This got the Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) team wondering: What do people really think about the impact robots and automation are having on their lives, particularly at work?

So we got to work.

Thursday, at the Think Tank by Adobe: Future of Work event, in San Jose, Calif., we will unveil new ADI data about what people are saying about the future of work (FOW). According to our report—which analyzed 3 million social mentions from 2016 to 2017 pertaining to FOW and associated technologies—most conversations are positive. In particular, the impact of automation and robots are top-of-mind, but, contrary to popular belief, most people are talking about how robots are helping them do their work, rather than taking away jobs. Automation mentions have doubled year-over-year (YoY), and average daily mentions of robots and jobs have increased 70% YoY.

In fact, the topics of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robots have led to wide-ranging conversations about automation. While there is some concern about how robots and automation may impact work (-1.8 and -2.1 FOW net sentiment, respectively), people are increasingly talking about how automation in the workplace can take on the mundane tasks they’d rather not to, freeing them to focus on the creative and strategic responsibilities that matter most to them and their careers. And it’s not just about robots; it’s also about productivity software that helps automate repetitive tasks. Automation received plenty of positive sentiment, as well, with saving time (30%) and big data analysis (25%) cited most frequently. With an increased effort toward automation, mundane data analysis could become a relic of the past.

When we dug deeper into our analysis, we found that people were also talking about a few other FOW-related subjects:

• People analytics: HR is the latest workplace organization to incorporate big data into decision-making. Here at Adobe, executives like VP of global talent Jeff Vijungco, one of the speakers at the Think Tank event, are leading the way with incorporating analytics into their focus. When was the last time you saw big data associated with recruiting the industry’s best talent? The idea of using analytics to recruit, improve management, replace performance reviews, and cultivate workplaces was the most popular FOW topic. Conversations about people analytics within the FOW context have increased 20% YoY. Companies are focusing more efforts on their people, leading to workplaces that continue to improve.

• Work environment: According to our findings, flexibility and impact are key employee motivations. We might also see more people moving toward the flexibility of contractor-type work—a.k.a. the gig economy. Mentions about the gig economy have increased 3x YoY. Perhaps more people want to see companies incorporate mandatory office shutdowns and more flexible work schedules. After all, they are talking less about PTO on social media, which could mean they’re experiencing more stress. The investment of people analytics paired with demands from the gig economy are key considerations to improve work environments.

• Transportation: Faster and more self-propelled transportation can completely change how we get to our jobs and even how we work. Led by the Hyperloop and self-driving cars (1.1 million-plus mentions in ’16), the future is bright for transportation. The Hyperloop and its space-age look and speed had 50% more positive sentiment than buses and 2x more positive sentiment than taxis. Tesla, BMW, Ford, Volvo, and GM are the top five brands mentioned for self-driving cars.

Overall, people seem to believe the FOW is promising, particularly when it comes to the automation of traditionally mundane tasks. Automating document and signature processes, for example, could open up new possibilities for people as the tech revolution advances. In other categories, faster transportation and self-driving cars could revolutionize local travel. Work environments should continue to improve as employees demand more from their space.

As for robots and where they fit in, I am still holding out hope for Rosie but would settle for Johnny 5 making a “Star Wars”  cameo.

View the full report below, or click here to view it on SlideShare.


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