March 25, 2018
Technology is poised to change the workplace, from robot co-workers and Artificial Intelligence (AI) bosses to a fun twist on working remotely.
One such innovation is virtual reality. Although it’s often associated with gaming, it can also be a powerful workplace training tool.
Construction workers can put on a VR headset to understand hazards before entering a site, and nurses can learn more about the medical devices they use to treat patients. A startup named Strivr designs such VR experiences. It’s worked with Walmart to prepare workers for shopping crowds on Black Friday, too.
Professional sports teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings also use Strivr’s tech to review plays or keep Injured players mind’s sharp when they cannot practice.
One of the biggest areas where VR training can be useful is safety, according to J. P. Gownder, vice president at research firm Forrester.
“Strivr is one of many approaches to solving this problem. The company’s templated approach makes it relatively easy to capture real-world environments for training,” Gownder said.
‘Virtually’ working from home
Working from home in the future could have a fun twist, too.
Dylan Hendricks, director of the Future 50 Program at Institute for the Future, who works remotely in Austin, Texas, collaborates with colleagues in other offices in a virtual reality work space.
“This is becoming much more of a practical infrastructure than people realize,” he said. “You can interact with people very far away and share data.”
Startup Mimesys’ holographic meeting platform offers another option. In VR or augmented reality, employees can meet for discussions or interact with holographic charts, pictures and data in real time, regardless of where they live in the world.
Your next boss could be an artificial intelligence powerhouse.
In fact, ad agency McCann Worldgroup Japan uses an AI robot called AI-CD β as one of its creative directors.
A McCann team looked at a series of TV commercials to understand what makes a good ad, and then developed an algorithm based on what they discovered. That algorithm helps AI-CD β come up with new ads.
In 2017, it provided creative direction for a music video for Japanese Idol group “Magical Punchline.”
McCann employees say the robot can help workplace creativity and doesn’t have the habits or biases of human creators.
Your co-worker, the robot
If a robot isn’t your boss, it could become your co-worker. Some companies believe robots have a place right next to human staffers.
When online wholesale retailer Boxed automated its New Jersey fulfillment center last year and brought in robots, the company retrained employees to do other tasks.
In addition, UK-based Industrial Vision Systems builds collaborative robots that can do repetitive tasks like pick parts out of a bin on an assembly line for manufacturers.
“[The robots] work side by side with a human operator or do quality checks in line with a worker doing other checks around a product,” Earl Yardley, a director at Industrial Vision Systems, told CNN.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose your job to a robot in the future.
“People may be redeployed in the future, but it gives them an opportunity to work in different areas of the factory and develop their own skill base.”
AI medical assistants
Emerging AI could help improve analysis and treatment in the medical field.
Radiologists — who use medical images like X-rays and ultrasounds to diagnose and treat patients — are already getting some help from AI. For example, medical imaging startup Arterys’ Cardio AI tool measures blood flow and the volume of the cardiac muscles in the heart’s ventricles in seconds. The process takes a human radiologist about 45 minutes.
Although there are only a handful of FDA-cleared systems like this in use, it raises questions about whether radiologists will be needed in the future.
“There’s a misunderstanding that AI software will take over everything the radiologist does,” said Carla Leibowitz, head of corporate development at Arterys. “Radiologists will still make judgment calls.”
The growth of this type of technology could allow clinicians to spend more time on assessing new medicine than on routine work.
AI is also being applied in pathology for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and in ophthalmology to detect eye disease.
Work IDs get under your skin
Some companies are taking an extreme route to bypass work IDs.
Wisconsin-based kiosk company Three Square Market made news last year when it announced its employees could volunteer to have an RFID microchip implanted under the skin on their hand.
The chip — which is slightly bigger than a grain of rice — allows workers to open doors, log into computers and make purchases at work without needing an ID badge, password or credit card.
The concept of microchipping employees has raised concerns, but the company says the chips don’t track employees.
“Implanting chips into employees is a radical move that raises serious privacy issues, and isn’t likely to take off widely in the near future,” said Forrester’s Gownder.
“Why implant a chip into an employee — who might not work for you forever — when you can give them a smartphone with a biometric reader, like iris recognition or fingerprint scanner or a wearable device, instead?”
Fingerprint scans to unlock computers
Rather than using a password to log into your work computer, a small laser could scan your iris to confirm your identity.
More companies are using biometric authentication like this — along with fingerprints and facial recognition — in lieu of traditional passwords to combat hackers.
In fact, 86% of businesses are projected to use a form of such technology by 2020, up from 62% today, according to Spiceworks, a network for IT professionals.
Some workplaces already use fingerprint and face recognition to authorize employees on time clock systems. Meanwhile, healthcare organizations use biometrics to allow workers to open doors or access applications with sensitive data.