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NICE, a provider of a robotic process automation (RPA) platform infused with machine learning algorithms employed in call centers, today published a Robo Ethical Framework for employing AI to better serve customers.

The goal is to provide some direction on how best to employ robots alongside humans in a call center, rather than focusing on how to replace humans, said Oded Karev, vice president of RPA for NICE. NICE stands for Neptune Intelligence Computer Engineering.

Specifically, the five guiding principles for the framework are:

  1. Robots must be designed for a positive impact: Robots should contribute to the growth and well-being of the human workforce. With consideration to societal, economic, and environmental impacts, every project that involves robots should have at least one positive rationale clearly defined.
  2. Robots must be free of bias: Personal attributes such as race, religion, sex, gender, age, and other protected status should be left out of consideration when creating robots so their behavior is employee agnostic. Training algorithms are evaluated and tested periodically to ensure they are bias-free.
  3. Robots must safeguard individuals: Delegating decisions to robots requires careful consideration. The algorithms, processes, and decisions embedded within robots must be transparent, providing the ability to explain conclusions with unambiguous rationale. Humans must be able to audit a robot’s processes and intervene to redress the system to prevent potential offenses.
  4. Robots must be driven by trusted data sources: Robots must be designed to act based upon verified data from trusted sources. Data sources used for training algorithms should maintain the ability to reference the original source.
  5. Robots must be designed with holistic governance and control: Humans must have complete information about a system’s capabilities and limitations. Robotics platforms must be designed to protect against abuse of power and illegal access by limiting, proactively monitoring, and authenticating any access to the platform and every type of edit action in the system.

NICE is including a copy of this framework with every license of its RPA platform that it sells. Organizations are, of course, under no obligation to implement it, but the company is trying to proactively reduce the current level of “robot anxiety” that currently exists among employees within an organization, said Karev.

That level of anxiety is actually slowing down the rate at which RPA and other AI technologies would otherwise be adopted, Karev added.

Implementing robotics ethically

In general, most organizations are not closing call centers and laying off workers because they deployed an RPA platform. Instead, as more rote tasks become automated, the call center staff is engaging more deeply with customers in a way that increases overall satisfaction. As a result, customers are consuming more services that are now sold to them via a customer service representative.

There are, however, vertical industry segments where customers would rather not engage with anyone at all. They simply want a robot to automate a task, such as registering a product on their behalf. In either scenario, the relationship between the end customers is fundamentally evolving, thanks in part to the rise of RPA and AI, noted Karev.

In some cases, organizations overestimate the ability of robots to handle customer interactions in place of humans, added Karev. “Robots are not as smart as some of us think they are,” he cautioned.

In fact, Karev noted that governance is crucial to make sure trusted insiders are not abusing robots for nefarious purposes or that cybercriminals are not hijacking a workflow to siphon revenue.

It’s not clear to what degree the NICE framework will become a real-world codicil to the literary Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics that start by saying no robot may harm a human or, by its inaction, allow a human to come to harm. However, the NICE framework and others like it are a step in the right direction.

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