Talk to Sophie Breuer – Artificial Intelligence

“A good education is very important”

Sophie Breuer, 29, is a supply chain manager at Nespresso. The company has recently moved its main Vienna office into the new Icon Tower next to the central railway station. Open-plan offices with immaculately tidy workstations – and not just in the holidays – and numerous smaller meeting rooms, which are also a favourite place for taking phone calls. Our interview with Breuer takes place in one of these meeting rooms too – it’s named after a variety of Nespresso coffee.

Sophie, in the discussion at “Talk to THE FUTURE OF WORK” about artificial intelligence, and robots taking over some work processes, you suggested that there might be fewer back and disc problems in the future. If robots take over tasks that have previously been done by humans, won’t there also be less work for the humans?
SOPHIE BREUER: The nature of work will change, of course. Specialisations will emerge which may not exist at all today. And there will be jobs that don’t exist yet. But I think we’re looking a few years into the future there. In any case good training, good education, will become increasingly important. That is a challenge for the government. For instance, children should already be learning about IT topics at school.

Is this just science fiction?
SOPHIE BREUER: Robots are already helping us today. For instance nowadays when pallets are stacked, people no longer have to lift heavy boxes. In the past warehouse workers had to lift 30-kilo packages, and now there are automated vehicles that can do that. There are pallet lifts that drive around autonomously, so there’s no need for anyone to go to and fro thirty times a day fetching pallets from one end of our site to the other. That individual can be usefully deployed somewhere else, looking at it from a positive angle.

Will there be less physical work in the future?
SOPHIE BREUER: Yes. That’s why continuing education and good training are so important. I’m a positive person and I try to see the positive side. In the warehouse there will simply be more systems that help the humans. Systems that ensure fewer mistakes are made.

Do you have an example of that?
SOPHIE BREUER: For instance new picking technologies that show employees exactly which items they should take. People used to pick orders using a delivery slip. Today if you pick the wrong item and scan it, the system tells you it’s wrong.

But there will still be a picker? This task could surely be done by a robot too.
SOPHIE BREUER: That is a question of cost. But it’s also a question of values; and of course that depends on the company. But I can’t imagine all these people being replaced overnight by robots.

So as a positive person do you not feel anxious when you look ahead to the future? Perhaps artificial intelligence will take over your job one day too.
SOPHIE BREUER: For someone without a high level of training that might be so. I have no doubt that the future holds challenges. But as I said earlier, the government also has a responsibility where education is concerned.

What is the point of the work you do, from your perspective?
SOPHIE BREUER: What fascinates me is the link between numbers and processes. I’m interested in configuring these processes such that mistakes don’t happen, so that things function more quickly. I enjoy hearing the personal experiences of Nespresso customers. What’s important to me personally, and why I like coming to work every day, is the team. In our company you can make a lot of things happen if you take a cross-departmental approach. Perhaps that’s also a question of personality, but somehow the right people always seem to find each other.

Is your job today anything like what you planned when you were at university?
SOPHIE BREUER: I always wanted to work in a sector where I can picture what it’s about. Foodstuffs for example. Despite that, it was only when I came to work here that I really understood what the job is, and was able to take a peek into many different aspects of the company’s activities.

Is work often too abstract?
SOPHIE BREUER: As I see it, the supply chain is the way a product flows from manufacturing through to delivery. I have found it easier to picture that in a company where the product is something tangible. My role is to be a kind of interface between our warehouses and delivery partners.

Will drones take over the task of delivering packages one day?
SOPHIE BREUER: I’m not sure about that. In Switzerland there has already been a test run using robots in an urban area. There is a limit as to the size and weight of parcels. I can see that may work in certain areas in the future; but on Vienna’s inner-city Gürtel you won’t be able to drive a robot around. What would be of much greater interest would be if delivery partners were able to plan their routes more efficiently. To see where they can save time and get to the customer faster.

But that’s not something that concerns you directly, is it? Surely that’s a matter for your delivery partners?
SOPHIE BREUER: We take an interest in it too, and we certainly keep in close contact with the delivery service companies. Because of course we want the whole experience to be as pleasing as possible for the customer.

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