The Decade of the Robot – What’s to happen to our future workforce?

I read a BBC news article today on the idea that soon enough, we could be working next to robots, as they will gradually start to replace the human power within manual workforces. Initially of course I was sceptical of this idea, as my first thoughts tended to be that a human workforce, although prone to injury, sickness and natural error, would naturally be cheaper than producing state of the art machines to do the same job. As I considered all the article had to offer, I actually found what it had to say profoundly interesting.

First of all, it would be silly to not already look at many of the questions that are already circling the sphere of robotics today. We could say that looking ahead, these robots would earn their value back tenfold, as they’d in theory be able to work 24/7, with no time off and no need to be paid – making the initial cost appear as just a short term loss to a company. However, damage on the environment may be a factor to consider amongst today’s climate crisis. How much harm would be caused to our natural geography when farming the rare metals needed for parts, or the pollution that would be caused in their manufacturing? Not to mention the cost of transporting and installing these robots in the first place.

However, Automata – one of the focus companies in the article, are making the EVA, which is a reliable robot made from affordable parts, in the UK, and are aimed at smaller companies. Now although I’m tech literate, I can’t explain how this robot works fully, but what it is doing is really beneficial, and I don’t think should be overlooked, or seen as terror.

Many fellow students and lecturers I speak to, ranging from the historian, ethicist and writer, tend to only focus on the negative side of this advanced tech. I remember when AI smart speakers first appeared on the market, and everyone was in a state of panic about the government listening to our lives. Now although that may be a concern, and I’m not completely discounting it, our lives haven’t become Orwell’s 1984, most of us use these speakers as timers for oven food, they certainly don’t dictate our lives as much as we thought.

As for the worker replacement scare, which again, is a big fear especially for those on the breadline, living paycheck to paycheck, I don’t think there needs to be too much concern. The OECD state that 14% of jobs are “at risk of automation”, and 32% could be “radically transformed”, but despite this, I think the human workforce will exist for a long time. During the Industrial Revolution, so many farmers were terrified of loosing everything, and of course some did naturally, but it was a time where we saw a huge shift and development of a workforce, adapting and taking on new roles in industry. There’s every chance that instead of humans being redundant, we’ll move into new roles, roles that we’ll create for ourselves.

As a tech utopian, I’d like to think that there won’t be so much fear and angst around technologies for the future when we see their practical uses pay off. According to the International Robotics Federation, there are already 2.4 million robots working in industry worldwide, so this isn’t some new big scare. Chances are you’re reading this online, and I can tell you now, I doubt that device was made by hand! I’d like to think about the positives this could produce – in more realistic prosthetics in medicine or through saving lives by having robots do dangerous jobs for us. I think its important to acknowledge the potential dangers, like security and surveillance, and I’m not trying to say robots won’t take over the world, but I believe its more beneficial for humans to become as adaptable to new technologies as possible. Not to bow down to them, but allow them space to work with us, for us!

Here’s a link to the article below, and any other bits of relevant information I’ve drawn on –

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51442445

https://ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/robot-investment-reaches-record-16.5-billion-usd

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