Robert Carpenter, CEO of Valyant AI, has created a conversation AI that can take the orders of customers at the drive-thru window, streamlining the fast-food ordering process and increasing profit margins for restaurants. Courtesy Valyant

AI, robotics takes jobs, creates others

Artificial intelligence has the potential to radically alter the way employment looks in the future.

And while it’s true there are jobs that will likely be replaced with robots or artificial intelligence that could do those jobs more efficiently or with less cost, the people on the front lines building the robots see a net benefit for all involved — even the employees.

Developments in technology led to the possibility of artificial intelligence in the workplace.

“One could argue we have always been moving in this direction,” Terry Olkin, CEO of Lefthand Robotics, a Longmont company making automated snowplows, told BizWest. “Ever since the industrial age we have been creating machines. Machines help people do tasks more efficiently, faster, better, cheaper, so on.”

Olkin cites smartphone technology, which allowed for more sensors and for miniaturization, as a reason why we have artificial intelligence as it is today, not to mention developments in autonomous vehicles. Other technological developments that have made AI possible are breakthroughs in neural nets and cloud computing, which allowed for the build out of millions and billions of calculations, said Robert Carpenter, CEO of Valyant AI, a Denver company building conversational artificial intelligence to be used in fast food restaurants.

With the improvement of the technology has come new jobs building out robotics and AI.

“We’re starting to see the talent pool ramp up,” Olkin said. “As opposed to software, which has been around for 60 years by now, robotics is still quite new. It’s difficult to find people with 10 years experience, much less 20 years. We see a lot of applications from people who just finished undergrad and this is their first job or second job.”

While there is an influx of more people studying robotics, Olkin said his company is training its new hires instead of competing for the experienced engineers who are mostly going to larger companies.

New jobs are being created by the rise of the robotics industry, but critics say that the robots are replacing workers. Olkin, however, sees it differently. In his case, the automated snow plows he is creating are usually filling a role people don’t want. Most snow shoveling for campuses or municipalities happens early in the morning, in freezing cold temperatures and requires large teams of temporary workers. In his experience, Olkin said most employers find it difficult to find people who want to do the work and those who do would much rather be managing the robot than actually shoveling snow.

Carpenter also sees his AI — which efficiently can take orders from customers at the drive-thru window using automated prompts — as freeing up more opportunities for human workers, not replacing them.

“The position of a fast food employee at the drive-thru is to take orders from one or two lanes as customers mumble or delay their answers, making change, taking credit cards, scanning loyalty cards, putting the food in the bag, filling the soda which starts overflowing and makes their hand sticky,” he said. “These drive-thru employees are being overtasked and asked to do a lot of things simultaneously.”

In addition to taking one more thing off an employee’s plate, Carpenter said his AI has the potential to make restaurants more profitable by being more efficient. That in turn can lead to more locations opening, more people being hired and more investment back into the employees and the food.

Looking ahead, Olkin said he doesn’t see a future where robots overtake the opportunities for people, but rather one where automation creates more opportunities.

“It’s going to let us do things we cannot do today that we want to do,” he said. “Think about the ability to do more research like exploration in space or under the sea. Those are things we simply can’t do without humans or can’t easily do them any time soon. Nothing will stop the tech revolution from going forward. But I’m hopeful it means people will want to and need to be more educated. That’s where I see work going.”

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Read related stories in BizWest’s special report: Workforce Woes. Published in March 2019.

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Ramping up talent recruitment and development

Artificial intelligence has the potential to radically alter the way employment looks in the future.

And while it’s true there are jobs that will likely be replaced with robots or artificial intelligence that could do those jobs more efficiently or with less cost, the people on the front lines building the robots see a net benefit for all involved — even the employees.

Developments in technology led to the possibility of artificial intelligence in the workplace.

“One could argue we have always been moving in this direction,” Terry Olkin, CEO of Lefthand Robotics, a Longmont company making automated snowplows, told BizWest. “Ever since the industrial age we have been creating machines. Machines help people do tasks more efficiently, faster, better, cheaper, so on.”

Olkin cites smartphone technology, which allowed for more sensors and for miniaturization, as a reason why we have artificial intelligence as it is today, not to mention developments in autonomous vehicles. Other technological developments that have made AI possible are breakthroughs in neural nets and cloud computing, which allowed for the build out of millions and billions of calculations, said Robert Carpenter, CEO of Valyant AI, a Denver company building conversational artificial intelligence to be used in fast food restaurants.

With the improvement of the technology has come new jobs building out robotics and AI.

“We’re starting to see the talent pool ramp up,” Olkin said. “As opposed to software, which…