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AI: Are You Cheaper Than a Robot?

by Jamie Radford


Elon Musk spoke recently about AI as our “biggest existential threat”. Further, about its development, he said, “It’s like summoning the demon”. This is quite a surprise, especially coming from such a forward-thinking person as Mr. Musk. His belief is that intelligent machines could land up “using humans as pets”. A concerning thought.


Professor Stephen Hawking was another advanced mind who foretold of technological disaster threatening humankind that would ensue with “near certainty”.


Some people are doomsayers when it comes to anything AI, and predicting that millions of jobs will be lost. Some are optimistic though and feel that it’s important to embrace the changes AI is bringing. The same split in opinion is present when it comes to the question of whether AI is cheaper than humans. With so many of us wondering where our jobs are headed and where we stand with respect to the future and our prospects, it’s no wonder this question is on so many of our minds. Are we cheaper than robots? Or are we significantly more expensive? Are companies trying to automate as many areas of business as possible and keep only the minimum number of staff?


The debate is rife with many positive about more automation along with improved and increased artificial intelligence usage, while still many others are against it. Of course, there will be numerous jobs and roles that technology will make redundant, but there are still a lot more that the advancement in technology is creating in its wake.


This is good news for those of us who worry about our job security. We are advancing in leaps and bounds within technology and AI, but there is still a real need for humans, and although we may not always be cheaper, our ability to interpret and analyse data in an intelligent manner is vital. And no robot is ever going to hold a candle to a human brain, no matter how well it has been trained… Cognitive tasks are always going to be required in any job and in any industry, and there is only one type of “person” for the job!


Artificial Intelligence relies on ANNs (Artificial Neural Networks) to work intelligently. These ANNs simulate the way the average brain works. They can even be trained to distinguish patterns within the information they are presented with, including images and speech as well as text. Another type of ANNs are on the close horizon. These are known as Adversarial Neural Networks which put two AI technologies up against each other to enable them to learn from each other.


The question of whether an employee is cheaper than a robot though, will of course depend on their job role, since most of us are, in reality, probably going to be more expensive, considering the pensions, National Insurances and taxes that employers have to pay on our behalves. But, there also the various costs involved in getting AI up to scratch for the required role, including the cost of creation of the robot, the cost in getting it to a point where it can actually take over a job – or most of a job – and the cost to train it. What about the cost of repairs? With artificial intelligence of this level, robots are not cheap. Repairs could run into the hundreds of thousands and a salaried worker within AP will take many years to reach the same expense that a robot could cause the company in a matter of days.


Robotics, AI and automation within accounts payable could actually be very costly, especially in the area of automated supplier payments. What if an invoice slipped through where it should have been flagged up? What if too many invoices are flagged up for checking where they don’t need to be, in turn creating more hours and more work for employees? The same could be said for employees, but some jobs within AP include tasks of a monotonous and repetitive nature which could eventually lead to mistakes, potentially costing the business money.


So, in short, whether you are cheaper than a robot is definitely up for debate – the jury is still out as you can perhaps see.


Without doubt, there will be certain industries in which the use of robots is far cheaper than employing humans and in these industries labour costs will slowly decline. In AP and the accounting industry however, AI is set to create more job openings than it will replace, according to a global research firm. There is always going to be a need for our intelligence and that is not cheaper nor more expensive than a robot – it’s a must.


Think though for a minute of the Industrial Revolution. Before this, many workers were completing 60-hour weeks on average. Afterwards, they were working 40-hour weeks. With AI unfolding as it is, the average working week could decrease still – surely a welcome occurrence for “Monday to Friday, 9 to 5” workers. And this means a potential decrease in the cost of employees to a company.


The key to being as valuable as AI is perceived to be, is to make use of the benefits and advances in our industry that it can provide. Learn what you can about it, how it can improve your day to day duties and your overall job role and responsibilities as a result of implementing new technologies and using the tools available to you from the AI realm, and you will soon see how you’ll be able to remain competitive as an employee in comparison to a robot!







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