Rodney Brooks is a former MIT professor who studies robots with the goal of one day helping them achieve artificial general intelligence (AGI)—or the ability to learn and think on their own. He founded leading global consumer robot company iRobot and is CTO of Rethink Robotics, which applies advanced robotic intelligence to manufacturing and physical labor. In his TED talk, Brooks explains that robots have the potential to become our "essential collaborators" as more people age out of the workforce than join it.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk:
"We overestimate technology in the short term, and we underestimate it in the long term."
Brooks uses the above quote from British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke to emphasize that most people highly overestimate how much technology can do now—but underestimate the need for it in the future. As baby boomers exit the workforce, there will be an increasing reliance on robotics and technology to automate jobs that companies can't fill, says Brooks.
"We have to look at technologies that ordinary workers can interact with."
In Brooks' mind, technology should aid people in doing their job better, not replace them completely. Brooks uses factory robotics as the perfect "bad example." These robots are often dangerous and far too complex for the average worker.
He emphasizes that user experience should be front and center when you think about introducing new technology to your employees. If your employees struggle to understand the software, it will end up taking up a lot time and resources to train them—potentially more than the investment is worth.
"There [are] two great forces that are both volitional but inevitable. That's climate change and demographics."
In the next 40 years, the number of people aging out of the workforce is going to increase dramatically due to shifting demographics. While this isn't something that companies can change, they can start preparing for it. Labor shortages will require HR to get creative with recruitment and retention strategies. According to Brooks, this is where the robots come in.