How to Beat Automation


How to Beat Automation

September 8, 2021

“Will I lose my job to a robot?” This is a question we are hearing more and more as automation continues becoming more prevalent in our lives. Imagine if we had to still speak to an operator every time we wanted to make a phone call. Automation has made people’s lives easier since the industrial revolution. As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) continues to evolve, we can’t help but ask ourselves: how far will it go? We have seen innovations like self-checkout cashier systems, autonomous trucks, and even automated line cooks, all of which were once done by humans. That being said, to maintain a more human approach that is sticky enough to the end-user, it is crucial to integrate empathy within your service design. Doing so will not only create a better user experience but justify the value proposition of humans in a continuously automated world. 

First, let’s dive a little deeper into what automation is really doing to jobs. There are two primary forms of automation: process-driven automation and data-driven automation.

When looking at automation, it is important to recognize what AI is good at. Joshua Gans, the Jeffrey Skoll, chair in the Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, described it perfectly: 

“AI is good at making predictions in cases where there are “known unknowns” – things we admit we don’t know – but is no good at all where there are “unknown unknowns” (unforeseeable conditions) – and it can be sent down the wrong track entirely if there are “unknown knowns” involved (things that are known but whose significance is not properly appreciated)1

So what types of jobs are safe from being automated? Well, let’s look at nurses as a use case.

Why nurses will not be automated in the near future

According to, nurses have a 0.9% chance of being automated in the near future. But why? Theoretically, a lot of their responsibilities have predetermined paths. That is to say, if patient X has symptoms A, B, and C after being diagnosed with illness Y, they should receive X mg of medicine Z. So what makes human nurses so valuable? The answer is simple: Human nurses have empathy for the patient.

Nurses are in a constant state of assessing the unknown unknowns and unknown knowns. While the data may show that the patient is doing well, at any given moment, their vitals can drastically decline and will need immediate attention. Often, nurses have an intuition when something is wrong with their patient that does not come from objective data, but rather a combination of synthesizing insights from the data and developing a sense of empathy for the patient after spending time with them on a daily basis. Empathy is a qualitative characteristic that does not rely on quantitative metrics like data. Rather, empathy utilizes our five senses to emotionally assess an end-user and pivot our current strategy accordingly. 

Empathy is the core reason that nursing will remain human for the foreseeable future and why roles that require empathy such as therapists, psychologists, and marketing managers, have some of the lowest likelihoods of being automated.

Can you stop your role from being automated?

The short answer to this is yes. To do so, you must empathize with your end-users and what they prioritize in your industry. The common paradox we find ourselves balancing is convenience vs. experience. Convenience has been the ultimate driver for automation for consumers. In fact, 52% of shoppers say that convenience influences their purchasing decisions2. If you use Amazon, I am sure you can probably resonate with that statistic to some degree. While going in-store provides a better experience, Amazon makes the purchasing journey so convenient that customers are willing to sacrifice that experience for the convenience it provides (i.e. not having to leave your house). Amazon was able to build its empire because they empathized with what the end-user truly wanted and not what they thought they wanted – This is why convenience tends to win over experience. 

By integrating empathy into your user journey, you can create “human-based value” which robots cannot compete with. For example, why do fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s offer automated self-service kiosks, but fine dining restaurants still use experienced servers? It is because at fine dining restaurants, servers go beyond the mundane tasks of delivering food and empathize with the patrons by catering to their every need. Fine dining servers make themselves valuable to the experience which is something that is too costly for fast food restaurants to do due to their lower profit margins. That isn’t to say those fast-food restaurants can’t use humans to enhance their experience, but it may require rethinking the conventional fast food business model in order to do so.

Empathize or be automated

To conclude, automation is progressing at a rapid rate and there is no guarantee that any job is truly safe from being automated. We are already seeing aspects of emotional intelligence being implemented in automated technologies such as Amelia by IPsoft, a market-leading conversational AI solution. That being said, to maintain a more human approach that is sticky enough to the end-user, it is crucial to integrate empathy within your service design. Doing so will not only create a better user experience but justify the value proposition of humans in a continuously automated world.

Want to learn more about how to add more value to your user journey?

At Impact Signal, we help business leaders interpret the observable patterns in data and the feelings and emotions of their users when making important business decisions. We believe companies make more responsible decisions about their services when combining analytics with empathetic, human-centered design.

Want to learn more? Contact us today!

Christensen, K. & Gans, J. (2019). Exploring the Impact of Artificial Intelligence: Prediction vs. Judgment. Rotman Magazine, winter 2019.
Here’s Where Consumers Want More Convenience When Shopping – Marketing Charts. (2020, January 24). Marketing Charts.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Definition: Process-driven automation

This type of automation is one that automates tasks that tend to have predetermined pathways. Historically, process-driven automation has been the most prevalent in the market. Tasks like manufacturing line automation, self-checkout, and ATMs are examples of process-driven automation as they are taking repetitive processes and giving them to a computer. Process-driven automation usually occurs when there are large cost savings due to high throughput volumes and when there is a low degree of complexity in the task being completed.

Definition: Data-driven automation

As AI and ML continue to be an area of focus for most companies, we are seeing more types of data-driven automation in the market. Data-driven automation can use large data sets to perform human-like judgment based on the context of the data it receives. The use of data-driven automation can range from aggregating large unstructured data sets into a digestible, relevant spreadsheet (using Robot Processing Automation (RPA)) to making judgment-based decisions as used in autonomous vehicles. Data-driven automation tends to occur for tasks that have a high degree of complexity and requires a low degree of human interference.


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