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Intelligent Process Automation: the next level iteration of Robot Process Automation

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McKinsey released a report last year on Intelligent Process Automation:




It seems to be the next wave in automating back-office work.  It takes Robotic Process Automation, adds analytics, voice interaction, pattern recognition, and other AI modules to make it easier to use and more adaptable to variations in the task -- as such, it enables much more automation.


For a primer on what RPA is, see this short video:




Basically, you create workflows that operate on top of pieces of software like spreadsheets and email programs.  


Now imagine simply telling the IPA system, "Every time I get a sales report email, add the results to the tracking.xls file, and send me an email if the estimated sales for next year are 10% higher than year-to-date for this year."


Something like that is just out of reach of IPA; but that will change.  If the program isn't sure exactly what you want, it will ask follow-up questions like, "Do you mean you want to re-compute the linear regression estimates in column 5, and compare to year-to-date figures in column 4?"  [Shows a spreadsheet]


When BCIs arrive, these follow-up questions could be brought down to a minimum; and the system could eventually learn from the brain data to ask very few -- and make do without any brain input.

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I didn't realize this, but there was a recent paper that appeared at the ICLR 2018 conference that showed a lot of progress on OpenAI's "Mini World of Bits" challenge:


The authors are not people who work in the business automation industry; but I think the work signals to people in that area that a lot of progress can be made using these ideas.

The Mini World of Bits challenge involved giving a "web agent" some commands in plain English, and having it carry out the request using the mouse and keyboard. For example, you could tell the web agent, "Click through the menus, find where it says to enter my information, and then type in my name and address."; and it will read the website, find the menu, click the right buttons, and then enter the data.

This may seem like a waste, since the right way to solve this problem is to have everyone set up their websites with JSON specifications to facilitate machine access. However, not everyone has bothered to do that; and, even though working with these specifications may be easier, it's still going to take some AI to work out little programs to use the remote service in the right way.


A general-purpose web agent that can highly-accurately interact with arbitrary websites in human-like ways, fulfilling vague instructions given in plain English, would be a job-killer.

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