Will Robots Destroy Job?

Nowadays, experts predict that a tipping point in robotic deployments is imminent all over the world. For decades, robotic automation has been developed in several industries, including the automotive and manufacturing sectors and now much of the developed world isn’t prepared for such a radical transition. From the first industrial revolution, to the 1500s, the worry and fear surrounding tech stealing our jobs have been, mostly, overstated.

In the next 20 to 30 years, every commercial sector will be affected by robotic automation. It’s sure that automation will cost workers thousands maybe even millions of jobs[1]. In addition, unfortunately, displaced workers aren’t always the ones who benefit from the new industries automation makes possible.

According to Dr Jing Bing Zhang, one of the world’s leading experts on the commercial applications of robotics technology, “automation and robotics will definitely impact lower-skilled people”.

Data is clear:

  • according to a new report from consultancy firm PwC, automated bots could take nearly four in 10 (38%) jobs in the U.S., and take 30% of jobs in the Germany, 30% in United Kingdom , and 21% Japan.
  • Then, in a recent report, the World Economic Forum predicted that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than 5 million jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020, a conservative estimate.
  • Anotherstudy, conducted by the International Labor Organization, affirms that as many as 137 million workers in Asia,  namely Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, approximately 56% of the total workforce of those countries are at risk of displacement by robots (in particular, workers in the garment manufacturing industry).

In this scenario, the jobs more likely to be taken over by robots include those in the transportation and storage (56%) sectors, as well as manufacturing (46%) and retail (44%). Against this background, history teaches us that the net result is generally positive.

In an interview for fortune.com, Douglas Peterson, General Manager of the Americans for Universal Robots confirms that robotic automation is already present in different sectors. For example, in machine tending sector, where robots replace workers loading and unloading plastic objection moulding machine all day long. Further, robotic automation is present in pick and place, packaging and in other simple operations such as placing a bead of glue around an object and driving screws down on in a light assembly type applications.

In Mr. Peterson’s view, next markets will be fast food industry, where robot could cut flip burgers, shoes industry (robots measure the shape of your foot and cut a sandal or custom flip-flop of your foot) and assisting surgery where robots can utilize their robotic arm to hold a camera and lighting around the surgical operation.

The rise of technology has made millions upon millions of jobs obsolete throughout history. Chainsaws, for example, have reduced the number of people necessary to harvest wood.

Automobile production robots have reduced the number of people necessary to make cars.  And farming technology completely transformed the way labor was employed throughout the 20th century. Just as in the examples provided, technological automation of dangerous and repetitive tasks frees up labor resources to be used doing more productive and creative tasks. The causes of long-term chronic unemployment have nothing to do with technological automation.

So, it will be necessary thinking innovative ways to deploy the robot in the manufacturing environment in order that workers can think of other ways to improve the process around the machine. Awareness and training is key to exploding this market of collaborate robot (learning about robotics and machine tools is fundamental): reskilling is the key concept. It’s important to provide sustainable mobility and job rotation in order that workers can learn new skills and develop new competences in different fields.

The landscape of work is changing right in front of us: however, an important question isn’t whether robots will take our jobs, but what we will do when they do[2].

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Lo sviluppo tecnologico, nella storia, ha portato spesso alla graduale trasformazione del modello produttivo tradizionale, e la diffusione dell’automazione non fa eccezione. Il passo necessario da compiere per evitare un passaggio traumatico risiede nell’istruire gli individui così da metterli nelle condizioni di fornire un lavoro a valore aggiunto maggiore.

 

[1] M.G.Losano, Il progetto di legge tedesca sull’auto a guida automatizzata, Diritto dell’informazione e dell’informatica 1/2017, p. 1.

[2] T. Dunlop, Why the Future is Workless, University of New South Wales Press (February 1, 2017).