Digital technologies are expected to create new social value by fully leveraging their capabilities to gain an understanding of the real world, perform analysis, and feed the results of this analysis back into the real world. However, it faces several social issues that must first be surmounted. Especially prominent among them are the serious problems of the shrinking working-age population and the declining number of highly experienced workers, which have the potential to shake the very foundations of social systems. In order to tackle these problems, Toshiba Digital Solutions offers Toshiba communication AI RECAIUS, the crystallization of media intelligence technologies nurtured for half a century. We are carrying out activities aimed at improving work productivity, raising worker motivation, and making peoples' lives richer and more comfortable. With the power of artificial intelligence (AI), diverse people can all actively play their respective roles, and their self-actualization can make society as a whole happier. In this issue, we present the innovative technical development and deployment of RECAIUS, which aims to provide society with this new richness, together with solution examples.
The AI boom and the true essence of work style reforms
We are in the midst of a tremendous AI boom. Scarcely a day goes by without hearing about the word "AI." The world is overflowing with information about artificial intelligence, creating the mistaken impression that we are already on the verge of being a world in which humans co-exist with machines with human-level intellects (AI robots and the like). In the business world, as well, it has become commonplace to hear people talk about their high expectations for AI, such using AI to improve operation efficiency or to develop new products.
These high expectations are backed by recent societal changes. Information society is undergoing a tremendous transformation, led by advances in Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and the Internet of Things (IoT). At the same time, the shrinking working-age population and declining number of highly experienced workers, caused by the low birth rate and aging of the population, are growing more severe.
The goal of society (CPS) in which physical space and cyberspace are integrated is to use the value created by collecting diverse data from the physical world and analyzing it in cyberspace to contribute to the enrichment of people's lives and the development of industry.
However, as CPS and the IoT evolve, they are creating complex worlds overflowing with massive amounts of data. It is not unreasonable for us to want to have AI handle the organization and selection of this mountain of data, and to use it make evaluations regarding complex situations.
One specialized agency predicts that the working-age population will shrink by roughly 16% from 2010 to 2030, adding further fuel to these expectations for AI. "Work style reforms" is often described in terms such as "reducing excessively long working hours" and "achieving work-life balance." It's essence is said to value "the desire to contribute to society and to people" possessed by each and every working individual, and to create working environments in which people are motivated and engage in sustained, efficient work.
To achieve this, it is important to have AI take care of the processes of accurately analyzing complex operation data, as well as organizing and selecting massive amounts of information – both types of work at which computers excel. It is important to transform working systems into ones in which each and every worker can dedicate their work time to their essential duties. If workers can dedicate themselves to their main duties, it will dramatically improve work productivity, produce greater self-actualization and motivation in worksites, and provide tremendous assistance in enabling companies to sustain themselves in the face of today's personnel shortages. Furthermore, if AI were also used in situations that require the advanced situational assessment and judgment capabilities of experts, it would enable the AI to leverage the expertise of experts, without allowing the know-how they have built up through the years to be lost. Hopes are also high for AI to make it possible to maintain consistently advanced business activities even in workplaces with personnel with diverse operational experience, capabilities, and nationalities.
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The first step in leveraging AI in workplaces
Unfortunately, there is a tremendous gap between reality and peoples' hopes that "if you leave it to AI you can solve anything." Current AI only excels at information classification. Provided with a large amount of truly necessary data, AI can approach the data from various angles to identify solutions. It can classify the information with a greater level of precision than people can, and can provide that information to people to assist them in making the best choices. However, in reality, most workplace environments have not collected sufficient data to enable AI to perform classification properly.
For example, in many workplaces such as sales, maintenance and inspection, customer service, and nursing workplaces, staff have both hands occupied while they perform their work. Even if they wanted to enter information and observations about current situations into mobile devices in a timely fashion, they face an "information entry wall," unable to use their hands to record that data. Records in documents and manuals do not always include the detailed knowledge and knowhow that led experts to make their decisions.
This is where Toshiba communication AI RECAIUS comes in. It understands peoples' speech and actions, and provides necessary information in an easy to understand manner aligned with peoples' intentions.
First, RECAIUS focuses on "lowering the barrier to information entry in workplaces." RECAIUS makes it easy to enter information such as what happening is in workplaces or what you noticed by using its audio input and output interface, which enables information to be entered just by speaking naturally to the AI application. Entry is hands-free and uses natural speech, so anyone can accurately record information about the situation they are in, without putting down what they are working on. In workplaces with multiple people performing different roles, RECAIUS can also easily create records of workplace communications between "people and other people," or "between people and systems." This information includes the conversations between workers and the situations when these conversations took place.
RECAIUS helps to take the first step to make full use of AI's ability by easily collecting high quality and raw site information that was difficult to collect so far.
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Transforming workstyles and making life more comfortable
The essence of work style reforms are to enable each and every worker to use their work time to perform their main duties. To accomplish this, it is important to "create time" for workers. This makes it essential to carry out business process reforms such as visualizing current business processes, analyzing the factors that result in time constraints, identifying elements that could be handled by AI, and streamlining procedures using AI.
Raw workplace "communication data" can be collected by using RECAIUS's speech input interface to lower the barrier to information input in the workplace. Communications that people have only understood sensuously so far are converted into “explanatory variables” and “numerical representations” in order to perform analysis of information such as what happened in workplaces, whether or not there was unnecessary work, or what reporting would be needed to make improvements, and those can be replaced to an approach that used mathematical analysis by computers. RECAIUS performs this conversion using AI technology. We are carrying out development of the RECAIUS Communication Knowledge Platform, and have started using it together with customers in multiple customer workplaces (Fig. 1).
The data (visualization) of workplace communication into data (visualize) clarifies business process issues, eliminates waste by having AI carry out work such as organizing and selecting data, and transforms work environments into environments in which workers can focus on their essential duties. Creating systems that allow people to comfortably focus on their key roles improves employee satisfaction, such as engagement and motivation, and improves operation quality. This helps improve customer satisfaction and contributes to greater sales and profits.
It produces a positive feedback cycle of employee satisfaction, corporate growth, corporate sustainability, and societal contribution. The products and services created by companies that maintain these positive feedback cycles help make peoples' lives richer and more comfortable.
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Examples of the work style innovations achieved using RECAIUS
Below are several case studies of RECAIUS use.
"RECAIUS Field Voice Intercom" makes it possible to use a smartphone like an intercom or transceiver, as well as creating conversation records. It supports real-time group chat, and speech recognition is successively performed on conversations, creating text timelines and sending them to smartphones. This service enables the sharing of information in real-time, both through speech and text.
Conversation content and flow can be viewed in text form, displayed in a similar manner to the screens used in social networking services (SNS). This makes it possible to review operations and improve customer satisfaction by approaching these areas from a communication perspective.
For example, in order to provide proper customer service in hotels and inns, it is essential to maintain timely communication between numerous people, including front desk staff, hospitality staff, kitchen staff, and cleaning staff. However, this always involves some degree of communication loss – missed comments, misheard comments, requests that people repeat themselves, and the like.
At one historical inn, RECAIUS Field Voice Intercom was used in a system for confirming, in text and speech form, the contents of conversations between staff throughout the inn, captured via the staff's mobile devices. Accurate, waste-free information sharing eliminated the problem of communication loss. Recorded speech content was saved as-is in a server. The system made it possible to use visualized communication data each day to review records of customer service and share with staff members vital knowledge that can be the secret of high-quality hospitality, such as what kind of service makes customers happy. The system helped maximize the amount of time staff members spent providing service to customers, and also contributed tremendously to customer service quality by using communication that had gone unrecorded in the past as a valuable source of information.
RECAIUS AI services also support the transformation of work processes in fields in which timely, accurate recordkeeping are difficult, such as sales, maintenance, inspection, and nursing, where workers are constantly busy.
For example, with "RECAIUS Report Agent" service, sales personnel can, after visiting customers, automatically record and categorize information about who they visited and the content discussed in their visit, simply by speaking to their mobile device. This information is then recorded in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or similar system. This service is already in use for a diverse range of applications, including daily work reports, order entry, maintenance and inspection work records, and nursing care records.
Even if someone who issues a report forgets something, the RECAIUS Report Agent will point out the omission and check the content of the report. There is no need for text entry via computer or smartphone, so lulls in work can be used to efficiently and accurately issue work reports. This enables sales and maintenance personnel to rest assured and devote themselves to their primary duties.
Reporting dialog scenarios don't need to be created from scratch. The service has a function for linking to CRM and other information and automatically generating scenarios. Preliminary configuration can be performed merely by selecting which items are to be reported. This produces an environment in which field information is collected in a timely fashion.
The functions offered by RECAIUS make it possible to visualize in real time what is happening in worksites and what improvements need to be made. This significantly contributes to the improvement of operation quality.
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RECAIUS, advancing to the next stage
To "work style innovation" and "more comfort of life."
RECAIUS has envisioned four stages to the scenario in which this vision is brought to fruition. We are currently in stage one, in which speech input and output interfaces are used to visualize communications, supporting business process reforms for customers in a wide variety of industries and creating room for time and mind of working people.
During stage two, the breadth and depth of the information handled as knowledge will be extended, and AI will handle some operations, including situational decision-making. The goal of this stage is to collaborate the original roles of working people and the roles that can be played by AI, achieving a world in which they can be more deeply involved with other people and with society as a whole.
In stage three, AI will seamlessly blend in with people and society, autonomously providing support to society as a familiar partner. This stage will be in a digital society overflowing with information and closing to the singularity point in which AI capabilities exceed the human brain. The goals of this stage will be to create a world in which people are highly motivated and enjoy emotional leeway in their work, and in which they enjoy peace of mind in their daily lives (Fig. 2).
Toshiba Digital Solutions is leveraging the ease of use of RECAIUS and its advanced media intelligence technologies to further extend the range of work to which AI can be applied in the field. RECAIUS AI technology is helping convert communication data into knowledge and performing the business process analysis and reforms that countless past AI technologies have been unable to perform. It is contributing to the improvement of labor productivity and the creation of motivation, essential for work style innovation.
It is taking the issues faced by modern society head-on, creating a new society in which diverse people actively engage. RECAIUS is accelerating work style innovation and the enrichment of peoples' lives.
* The corporate names, organization names, job titles and other names and titles appearing in this article are those as of July 2019.