We’ve seen a frenzy of reports over the last year in the left wing press about how robots are coming to take our jobs. Just about every newspaper out there, from Huffington Post to the Harvard magazine has run some sort of story on the subject. The idea is that machines are getting so good at doing manual tasks that they are going to eliminate blue collar work, once and for all.
What’s funny about these reports is that only a few years ago, these same journalists were claiming that robots were a fantasy. Robots would never be able to mimic the actions of a human. Biology was just too complicated. And software would never be able to control things like an artificial arm. The data requirements were just too high. How times change.
Now the warning is that we could be moving into a world where lots of manual work becomes a thing of the past. It’s a concern that has been voiced since the Luddites and the spinning loom of the 1800s. But today’s Luddites argue that this time is different. This time, humans really will disappear from the production process altogether and will live lives without work.
Automation Means Closer Collaboration Machine/Human Cooperation
There is, however, another vision of the future. Rather than seeing today’s technology as a break from history, this school of thought sees it as a continuation. Robots and people won’t diverge into some awful dystopian future, where machines work all night and people sit around getting fat. Instead, workers and machines will work together, using the advantages of each.
We already see this in factories across the Far East and China. Human workers work alongside humanoid robots and other machines to complete various tasks. And we also see it with robots that are safe to use, right next to humans, like Baxter.
Going forward, the primary challenge for companies will be making machinery so that people and robots can work safely side by side. Getting a Puwer assessment of machine safety will form a central part of many business plans. Traditional machines are dangerous and often have to carry out their operations behind screens. But new machines will have safety features that allow them to work beside people. It’ll be like having an extra pair of hands in the factory, a pair of hands that never gets tired.
Machines Create More Work, Not Less
The historical record on machines is clear: the more machines you have, the more work you can do. The press likes to argue that machines have led to a decline in the amount of work available for people. But a quick glance at the statistics suggests that this isn’t the case. Countries that use the most robots actually tend to have the lower rates of unemployment. Places like China and Taiwan have more robots per 100,000 than the West, yet far fewer people are out of work.
People and robots are complementary. Businesses need to find ways to help the two to work together in order to be more productive.