Aizatron, winner of the Sustainability Award in the medium enterprise category

How humans and robots can co-exist in the 4IR

For anyone worried that robots are going to take over all our jobs, a conversation with Ansu Sooful is a reassuring experience. “That’s scare tactics,” is the matter-of-fact attitude of Ansu, managing director and founder of Aizatron, one of South Africa’s first purely 4IR companies.

While automating businesses can reduce dependencies on humans, which can lead to job losses, this is not inevitable, Ansu says.

“Based on the outcomes we have seen, a completely automated workplace is not desirable from a productivity perspective. A completely manual environment is also not conducive to business. The latest research shows that what is the most desirable environment is where humans and bots work hand in hand together.”

Humans bring a dynamic to the work environment that bots have not yet been able to emulate, making person and machine a better combination than one or the other. “Artificial intelligence should be seen as tools that humans in the business use to do their jobs better,” Ansu says.

But this vision of happy co-existence between humans and bots is not going to just fall into place. It is going to take work and commitment to retrain and reskill human workers of today to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow, he says. “We must train the people on the technology and push them up from manual and repetitive tasks to become more creative and add more value.”

The question is: will businesses rise to the occasion and do the right thing? Well, Aizatron’s clients do.

Ansu explains.

“We are very involved in the automation space where we use artificial intelligence and smart technology to automate business processes. But as social entrepreneurs who want to use technology to solve society’s problems, we approach this from a holistic perspective. When we go into an organisation, we don’t just set out to automate its business processes but also to train up its human resources to be more creative and function at a higher level.

“This is the proposal that we always put forward when we look at automation and artificial intelligence. If the organisation doesn’t want to take our training and won’t look at upskilling, we generally won’t take the business, unless they explain what’s going to happen with these employees, such as moving them to other areas of the businesses where that makes sense.”

So far, Aizatron’s commitment to automation that does not cost jobs has served it – and its clients – well. Since opening its doors at the end of 2017, the Cape Town-based company has grown exponentially, almost doubling its revenues every year and increasing its own employee numbers from a handful to over 35.

Ansu attributes this growth to the company’s conscious choice to use technology to the broader benefit of South Africans and to anchor its business on its values. “Each of us needs to centre ourselves around something to be productive and contribute,” he says. “From a company perspective, we are centred around our values as an organisation. If something violates our values, we won’t do it. If it supports our values, we will.”

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