Cognitive technology and the automation of everything

robotics brain

The promise of cognitive technology lies in the true "democratization" of knowledge and creating of new opportunities

Credit: KPMG

The automation of knowledge work has the potential to drastically change business by creating a new class of “digital labor."


Automating key aspects of highly skilled knowledge work is primed to become one of the most disruptive forces since the Industrial Revolution. Similar to how the cotton gin revolutionized farming and production, cognitive technologies that learn, understand and process languages, patterns and images like a human are poised to transform businesses around the world.

Fueled by changing global demographics, Big Data, analytics, cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the automation of knowledge work has the potential to drastically change business by creating a new class of “digital labor.” And it’s not just clerical services. Higher-skilled job categories in medicine, legal services, accounting, finance and law enforcement are all in scope to be augmented and even replaced by cognitive technologies. In fact, while the transformational powers of robotics and cognitive automation are only in their infancy stage, the work of more than 100 million knowledge workers across the globe may be impacted by automation over the next 10 years.

Robotic Process Automation 

Consider the value of this move to cognitive automation, often called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Eliminating and automating the menial and mundane aspects of jobs allows workers to concentrate on bigger tasks at hand. An employee’s value is in their ability to make good decisions and innovate. Instead of tying up talent with repetitive tasks, businesses can automate more activities, and access the most appropriate and expensive skills and talent to provide input and handle exceptions on demand.

And the cost saving opportunity that cognitive-powered RPA introduces can be enormous — in some cases cutting up to 75 percent. By not having to constantly retrain an entire workforce or hire more people, a company frees up assets.

 Yet, this new digital workforce is creating a tectonic shift in the outsourcing world, what I consider to be “the Death of Outsourcing.” Not only are companies like IPsoft, IBM Watson and Automation Anywhere providing the core technologies for cognitive automation, many of the world’s largest outsourcers like Wipro and TCS have introduced their own cognitive platforms which are poised to transform the labor-centric offshore services landscape to one that resides in the cloud. In fact, I recently advised attendees at KPMG’s Robotics Innovation Symposium that RPA represents the “Uberization” of outsourcing.

You’re automated on the low-end, but creating a category for high-end skill set employees to address and solve problems they previously didn’t have the time to work on. The result is augmenting high-cost labor with data-driven, numbers-defined outcomes.

Rather than relying on subjectivity, you have hard data on which to base decisions. While some believe cognitive technology will be detrimental to employment, I believe its promise is “democratizing access to knowledge” and helping business mitigate talent-wasting, labor-intensive work.

And much like the industrial revolution, cognitive-powered technologies will create new opportunities and provide enhanced services and products that have the power to reach people all over the world.

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