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An Economic Miracle or Robotic Takeover?

Examining the influence of robotics in the workplace.

Advances in technology have created a myriad of opportunities to diversify the workplace. Whilst the introduction of AI is one of these, robotics is an option that many industries are opting into for greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and safety.

However, there are several issues that are presented when it comes to implementing robots in the workplace. The most significant is the loss of jobs. Research released by Oxford Economics in 2019 on this issue flooded the media. By 2030 it is predicted that 20 million jobs will be lost to robotics, with each robot replacing 1.6 manufacturing jobs. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fears that, due to the number of workplace infections, businesses would aim to improve their sustainability by investing in “more reliable” robotics.

Universal Robots is a company that has pitched its ‘cobot’ idea which looks to create an environment where these robots will “work in harmony” with humans creating an “easier working environment” for its human co-workers. LSE economists Rui Costa and Yuanhang Yu look to add to this argument by stating that job loss fears are being “overplayed”, obscuring the reality that the introduction of robotics into industry will create jobs. They state that rather than worrying about this, the discussion on the future of the UK’s industry should argue the issues of low investment and low productivity growth that are a greater risk. This does not however subdue the fears developed from popular statistics of inevitable job loss.

This does not however completely subdue the fears developed from popular statistics of inevitable job loss. A further issue that adds to growing fears is the problem of safety; recently it was reported by the BBC that a man from South Korea was crushed by a robotic arm while inspecting its sensor and later died of his injuries in hospital. Whilst examples of these accidents can be found, they are very infrequent. Critically, it must be remembered that robotics play a valuable role in removing people from dangers, whether it be sewer cleaning or greater dangers such as bomb disposal; indeed, The Telegraph has reported that a quarter of the British Army will be robots by 2030.

With the divisions that robotics is causing, it comes as no surprise that nations and technology developers are coming together to discuss the threats of these technologies in conferences, like International Robotics held in Ohio for the last 35 years. In a similar event, closer to home, in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire there was a recent conference to discuss the growth of AI technology. Within these meetings, scenarios are investigated to visualise worst-case scenarios with this technology: an act of preparedness that will increase resilience to any future contingencies that may occur.

It is true that robots are more reliable, and after an initial greater investment, they will cost less in the long term than their human counterparts. They also have the potential to provide greater sustainability to economies and improve yields and growth. However, it must be remembered that their rollout and implementation must be managed carefully by governments and the business sector.

Image from Wikicommons

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