International Workers Day: Celebrating the AI behind the humans



by Ivan Yamshchikov, AI Evangelist, ABBYY

International Workers’ Day is all about shining a spotlight on workers – and this year, it’s more poignant than ever. The current climate allows us to appreciate and re-evaluate the impact workers make across the different industries and geographies. At a time like this, we should be going beyond their contributions, and thinking about new ways to support them, empower them, and push them to their full potential.

The invisible work behind technology is no new phenomenon. From the data scientists ‘teaching’ Alexa, to the army of community managers powering social media platforms, workers are tirelessly sustaining the digital economy that shapes our everyday lives.

We’re very quick to celebrate this work ­­– the work that goes behind the scenes of technology. But all too often, we forget that it’s not just about the humans behind the AI – it’s also about the AI behind the humans.

By shifting the spotlight to how digital workers are helping humans in every sector, often without acknowledgement or credit, we can recognise the huge role that human-robot collaboration will have in the workforce of the future. 

Getting down to business with digital workers

Digital workers are fast becoming essential, optimising and increasing something we’ve never been able to improve before: the ‘bandwidth’ of employees.

By ‘hiring’ digital workers and incorporating them into a workforce, businesses can empower their staff through AI – specifically their AI-driven colleagues. These invisible digital workers, or software bots, can automate mundane and repetitive tasks extremely quickly. By taking the “robot” out of the employee, humans can spend more time tackling creative, problem-solving tasks – which often deliver more value to their business. 

In the current climate, an example of this are the thousands of finance teams helping their businesses keep the lights on. Employees often spend their working weeks performing repetitive tasks, including printing invoices from emails, coding data into systems, matching invoice line items to purchase orders, and managing approval workflows. All of this is prone to error and increases the need for manual effort to resolve issues down the line. 

By giving jobs like invoice processing to digital workers, finance teams can spend more time working closely with the business and its customers, figuring out how to ensure employees are paid and helping the business cope in turbulent times.

If the process you want to automate is prone to human error and is repetitive – and especially if there is input data digitised through OCR and document capture – then the opportunity to invest in a digital workforce is ripe.


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A robotic helping hand

In the last decade, the arrival of AI and automation in the workplace hasn’t always been a positive story. Despite the benefits these technologies brought to businesses – and to workers themselves – fear of mass job losses and a lack of education around automation has marred the impact of these new innovations in the working world.

However, this fear of automation at work is subsiding, IDC recently found that the role of digital workers will increase by 50% by 2021. With the explosion of the robotic process automation market (RPA), there are now millions of digital workers employed at businesses around the world.

Companies that have their processes digitised or have already embarked on an automation journey can adapt more quickly to a ‘robotic helping hand’, and their employees can benefit too. If mundane repetitive tasks are automated, staff can work with problems that could be trickier yet have a more profound positive. Plus, there is a distinct improvement in productivity and efficiency.

IDC estimates that today machines conduct 29 percent of evaluating information, reasoning and decision making – and that this will only increase as businesses become more adept at using data and technology in everyday operations. While the percentage share will grow as we strengthen our progress and algorithm capability, it is important to remember that every decision is only automated once there is enough information to build a digital worker. If something is new we inevitably have to rely on human judgment and expertise. This creates a feedback loop which will push our curiosity further, thus driving innovation.

Empowering humans with AI

Right now, most business leaders still don’t know much about the AI behind the human – or crucially, its potential to transform their business. This needs to change.

Businesses who don’t welcome digital workers could suffer from lower productivity and efficiency. Further to this, by failing to understand the impact this technology could have on the nature of tasks that humans excel at, employee satisfaction could be affected. Now more than ever, workers want to feel empowered. A culture of innovation that puts humans at the centre, is just the way to do this. Behind the scenes, AI helps workers focus on adding the human touch – at a time when it matters most.

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