All aboard for the rise of the robots

The world is facing some profound paradigm shifts, thanks to the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic technologies.

Robotics are poised to take over around 800 million jobs by 2030 and, thus, around a third of the workforce in advanced economies will require upskilling and retraining.

In recent research, a team of scholars from Australia, Germany, Singapore, the UK and the US have identified the prevalent impact of robotics across all levels of the service economy (see Wirtz, J., Patterson, P., Kunz, W., Gruber, T., Lu, V.N., Paluch, S. & Martins, A. 2018, 'Brave new world: Service robots in the frontline', Journal of Service Management, vol. 29, no. 5).

We maintain that, in a world increasingly dominated by automation, humans will prevail in professional service roles that necessitate a combination of complex cognitive tasks and social and emotional ones. Robots will indeed excel in subordinate service roles for their precision, reliability, efficiency and ability to deliver on scale with consistency in quality and performance.

In the higher education sector, robotics will become an integral part of our culture and operations. Core tasks related to student services (e.g., front counter inquiries, course enrolment, timetabling, library services, data management and analytics) will largely depend on robotic and automatic functions. Areas such as PhD supervision, strategic planning, policy development, student experience and success will be predominantly delivered by humans for our social and emotional capabilities, agility, resilience and empathy.

We might witness an increasing number of hybrid human-robot teams for activities such as classroom deliveries, academic assessments, career advisory, business and financial services. Ultimately, the actual use of service robots will depend on the customer acceptance of robotic services, which is driven by the functional elements (perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, subjective social norms), relational elements (trust and rapport) and social-emotional elements (perceived humanness, social interactivity and social presence) of the robotics themselves.

Are we equipping ANU students with enough skills and preparation for the enormous impact of a robotic future? The answer is, only to some extent.