Why robotics will not eliminate the human workforce

The expression and concept of “robotics" has become popular in traditional corporations over the last few years. Firms try to asses if dedicated robots could do certain jobs on-demand or more autonomously.

While this might be new ground for traditional corporations, organisations such as NASA or the Army have been using robots for quite a while. Their robots are often physical machines and built to help humans to perform work in space, explore planet surfaces or directly help soldiers during dangerous endeavours.


In traditional corporations, robots (also known as Robotic Process Automation - RPA) are programs that run on computers and can perform repetitive, high quantity or complex on-demand tasks. Some readers might wonder whether robotics is just a new “marketing-word” for macro or script programming. Somehow yes but in a more advanced way I would say. Let’s look at their power.

Macros were and are usually targeted at performing one and the same task over and over again. They are very simple and limited. Macros would still try to execute a task even if that task no longer exists. You must tell macros exactly what to do and what not to do anymore. That's their limitations. Scripts are capable of executing series of tasks at once and are very valuable for background house-keeping tasks. But scripts have similar limitations than macros do. Robots on the other hand are much more flexible. And this makes them very interesting not only for the CIO.



“You might have even already interacted with a robot

…thinking it was a human"



Robots are somehow the next generation of macros with the intention to replace a specific administrative task a human had previously performed. Its part of an evolution as computers and programming tools become more sophisticated. Robots can sit idle and respond to an external stimulus (for example offering canned chat support for a customer depending on web page visited and topics searched). You might have even already interacted with a robot without realising and thinking it was a human. Robots can also adapt and fine-tune over time to then better react to a situation. As a result, robots can become more independent and act more autonomously. Here lies the real power. And this brings opportunities but also challenges.



  • Many office workers spend a lot of their time on “boring”, admin related and repetitive tasks. These tasks often do not lead to fulfilment or motivation. Robots can assume those activities while allowing employees to focus on more interesting work
  • Robots can become an extended workforce. For example answering customer requests outside of traditional office hours and even during weekends
  • Most companies have a very heterogeneous infrastructure and application landscape. Information and processes are often spread among several isolated systems which make data consolidation very complex. Robots can build the bridge here and become the missing links
  • During a crisis we humans naturally mix fact based analysis with our gut feeling. Robots don't fear consequences or emotional instability. They just perform what they were trained for and execute also during extraordinary circumstances 


  • Most firms are profit oriented organisations which try to constantly increase revenues while reducing costs. If a robot can do the work of a human, it's naive to think the employee is always given more satisfying work. Why not just replace the human and save the salary?
  • The cost of a human becomes very expensive compared to a robot. Not only do we humans need to eat and sleep, we also require weekend and vacation time. Our costs per productive hour become very expensive while the cost of a robot becomes cheaper with each hour on duty. This might foster a “man-to-machine” ratio disparity rather sooner than later
  • It might be tempting to use robots to overlap inefficient processes or data systems. Rather than optimising the end-to-end view, robots might be used to achieve quick wins. And this might lead to a greater long-term pain
  • Although we humans sometimes wished we could park our emotions during a crisis, it is our instinct that sometimes bring the extra element for maximum result. This is something a robot will never be able to achieve by definition


"you want still real people able to afford

your real products"



The listing does not claim to be exhaustive. But it shows that for each challenge you also find an opportunity (and vice versa). To successfully transform the affected jobs into new assignments, companies must actively create those new assignments. Increasing shareholder value is nice. But at the end you want still real people able to afford your real products. Therefore, a successful transformation should target to use robots to gain efficiency while using your human capital to create additional customer value. 


It is too early to predict the outcome. But I hope we will be able to look back in 10 or 20 years from now and see that we have been working with robots hand in hand for the collective good.


Chris Frey @chrisfrey.com