By Ian Barkin
semiotics, se·mi·ot·ics, \-ä-tiks\
- the study of signs and symbols, esp the relations between written or spoken signs and their references in the physical world or the world of ideas.
One thing we’ve particularly enjoyed over the last year is the multitude of reactions to the word ‘robot’ as it relates to the automation of routine tasks, via software emulating human work. Love it or hate it, you can’t argue with the fact that ‘Robot’ gets the job done – it creates visual imagery, it grabs the attention and it ultimately does prove to be useful as an illustrative metaphor for Digital Labor. Those who don’t like it argue that it elicits images of mechanical beasts in auto manufacturing plants, or more exciting still, it gets one thinking about Hollywood villains coming from outer space (or the future) to conquer humankind.
Remember the movie about the evil alien bots who descended to Earth, set on dominating us by efficiently managing routine F&A and Order Management processes? Man, was that a blockbuster hit! The soundtrack is still stuck in my head.
This got us thinking of semiotics. Basically, semiotics is the study of ‘meaning making’. In this case, the concept of a robot as a physical and spoken sign that has meaning to us. That meaning is first and foremost that of human activity and capability emulated. Yes, robots are stronger, more resilient, and often more capable at certain tasks. And, that is why ‘robot’ as a term for Digital Labor is just fine. And so, we’ll keep using it. It’s short, sharp, and gets the point across. The desk that used to house a human is now housing a robot (albeit invisible) capable of the same operations.
But, while we’ll continue to use ‘robot’ as a quick and efficient way to describe virtual task emulation via software, we predict that not everyone will. And we’re willing to bet on it.
We think, over the course of the next six months, BPO firms will stop using ‘Robot’. And then they will stop using ‘automation’. Why? For two reasons: Perception and Profit.
So, what is the take-away for Enterprises? What do we suggest our clients seriously consider?
So, ‘robots’ are here to stay. BPOs may not be. As we’ve said before, it will be an exciting next few years.