The Two Evolutionary Paths Of Robots (Hint: One Will Be Way Smarter)

Christopher Koch, David Jonker and Dan Wellers

Humans must know how to walk and think (a.k.a. chew gum) at the same time. To succeed in nature against rival species, we have needed to learn how to move about efficiently and get a keen sense of awareness of our environment while also developing the superior mental capacities to solve problems and plan ahead.

Robots have no such evolutionary constraints. The physical robot and the thinking robot can evolve independently of one another. As physical robots slog slowly toward mastering the insanely complex skills of navigating and sensing their environments, thinking robots are racing ahead, unencumbered by the need to learn how to walk, chew gum, or even acknowledge their physical surroundings.

These thinking bots are the future of business. This future has already begun with intelligent automation, in which bots take over mundane, repetitive tasks through specialized software called robotic process automation (RPA). Beyond simply carrying out preprogrammed tasks, these bots are also gaining the ability to think critically about the processes that they are managing by fusing the automation capabilities of RPA with the thinking abilities of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For example, these bots can spot problems and correct them automatically (to a point). They also know their evolutionary limitations. When they spot a problem they can’t solve, they know to summon a human colleague for help.

In the future, two classes of thinking bots will evolve in the workplace. Those that are dedicated to specific processes – let’s call them worker bots – and those that become less tied to specific processes and more tied to the humans in the office – assistant bots. With the low-hanging fruit of basic process automation behind them, businesses will look to these assistant bots to augment – not replace – their human colleagues.

Much as we carry around laptops and smartphones today to assist us in our work, these new species of bots will bring powerful new forms of automation and assistance to the workplace. Futurist Ray Kurzweil imagines, for example, that instead of PCs or smartphones, we will all have synthetic AI-based neocortexes in the cloud that work with us in the office each day.

How will you use your cloud-based neocortex?

Industry 5.0 means we need to dive deep into” The Ethics Of Artificial Intelligence.”


About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is the Editorial Director of the SAP Center for Business Insight. He is an experienced publishing professional, researcher, editor, and writer in business, technology, and B2B marketing.

David Jonker

About David Jonker

David Jonker leads the global thought leadership team at SAP, exploring how technology innovation addresses business, economic, and social issues today and tomorrow.

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is the Digital Futures Global Lead and Senior Analyst at SAP Insights.