By: Xinyu Chu
Although automation and robotics has long impacted manufacturing jobs, with recent technological advances, even more traditional office jobs are feeling the change. A New York Times article by Noam Schieber discusses the role automation is playing in the fashion industry. For example, the tasks of a fashion buyer, which typically require intuition about changes in the tastes and preferences of customers in order to predict future fashion trends, are beginning to be supplemented, if not replaced, by artificial intelligence. Machine learning has enabled artificial intelligence algorithms to extract profile information about customers, ranging from the items they put in their wishlists to their search histories or occupations, to make better predictions about which items to stock and recommend. Traditionally fashion buyers work in large groups and each buyer focuses on a specific style of clothing, monitoring the possible changes in trends and customer preferences. With the aid of artificial intelligence, a small group of buyers, or even a sole individual, can handle the job.
Yet, use of artificial intelligence is not without its limitations. For many personalized fashion companies (e.g., StitchFix), although their algorithms can make better predictions of general trends and for each customer, they still require a human touch to collect the data and interact with customers. Many customers do not know exactly what they want, and, at least for now, it takes the expertise of a human consultant to help determine what sorts of input are most relevant for the algorithms. Left unchecked, artificial intelligence can create problems for organizations. For example, t-shirt company, Solid Gold Bomb, used an unchecked algorithm to create thousands of unique t-shirt designs based on the slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On,” replacing carry on with various phrases. Within these thousands of designs, a subset had a range of offensive phrases that no one from the company saw before uploading the options for purchase. Eventually, the company went bankrupt. A little more of a human touch in the process may have prevented these issues and saved the company.
Rather than completely eliminating employees from the workplace, the introduction of automation may simply change the way in which people work and the types of tasks they need to focus on.