Since the inception of the assembly line, manufacturers have continually searched for ways to improve their efficiency. In the past few decades, robots have taken over some of the functions of human workers, mostly in repetitive, routine tasks. This has caused alarm for some who are worried about robots taking their jobs. So how exactly is the robot revolution changing the manufacturing business? Here’s what you need to know.
The State of the Robot Revolution
Last year, an 11-inch armless robot named Jibo — a so-called “social robot” — became the latest example of a clear phenomenon: more capable robots are coming soon. In truth, they’re already everywhere: in planes, in cars, in operating rooms, on assembly lines, in the military, and on the last mile.
As more robots appear, a new product architecture and more computing power become essential. In 2015, Gill Pratt, who oversaw robotics technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said “Improvements in electric energy storage and the exponential growth of computation power and data storage had enabled robots to learn and make decisions informed by the experiences of other robots.”
Does that sound frightening? Robots learning from other robots? In a sense, it leads to a larger consumer interest because the smarter robots are, the more helpful they are to humans. The consumer market will approach $100 billion in the coming years.
Today, most of the world’s robots are used in factories. What’s different is that those robots are smaller, more observant and more cooperative than their predecessors. Venture capitalists are flooding the robot market, which means we will be seeing more of them in our distribution centers and warehouses soon. And it’s not just manufacturers who are utilising robots. Companies from retailers to hotels are implementing the use of smarter machines.
So, not only will more robots become available, the manufacture of the units, all of their parts, and their internal chips and other technology will greatly affect the robotics industry.
The Changes Wrought By Bots
The upcoming “robot revolution” will change the global economy over the next two decades, cutting the costs of doing business, as machines take over jobs like caring for the elderly or flipping burgers.
Robots can already perform manual jobs, such as vacuuming the living room or assembling machines. The development of artificial intelligence (AI) means computers and robots are improving their ability to “think”. They are on the verge of being able to perform analytical tasks once seen as requiring human cognition.
This begs the question: what jobs could eventually be taken over by machines? Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s analysts predict the following jobs to be at risk: Burger Flippers, Manufacturing Workers, Financial Advisers, Doctors, and Care Workers.
Manufacturing Robots Running off Humans?
Should workers be concerned about the infiltration of robotic workers? While the US and Canada have lost more than 6 million jobs to overseas outsourcing, the majority of job losses in both countries was due to machines replacing humans.
The facts, however, tell us that over the past two decades, inflation-adjusted U.S. manufacturing production has grown nearly 40%. While there may be fewer jobs, more is getting done. Manufacturing employees have better education, are better paid and produce more valuable products — including technology that allows them to be more productive.
In the past few years, there have been millions of jobs remaining unfilled in the manufacturing sector. The aging workforce is not being replaced by younger workers. Youth are more interested in other work.
There are other issues to consider as well: Robots are safer. They are reliable. They are more ethical than using exploited labor overseas. They’re incredibly cost-effective, with manufacturers seeing return on investment in 12 months or less. Robots allow manufacturers to focus on innovation. This creates new jobs that require and build a more educated, highly skilled workforce.
So, will a robot take your job? Possibly. But, in return, workers of the future will likely find more meaningful work, for better pay. But there is also a distinct possibility that more white-collar jobs will be taken by robots with AI.
While many will continue to fear robots and AI for the damage they can do to the job market, when businesses are able to save money with cost effective machinery, they have more resources to higher more skilled workers.
The robot revolution is inevitable. Humans in manual labor jobs need to prepare for adding new skills or starting a whole new career.