‘We still need humans' | Robots take more jobs, what does that mean for us workers?

Robots take more jobs, what does that mean for us workers?

To the misinformed, the idea of a robot taking your job may seem like a dystopian nightmare lifted straight from the page of a Philip K. Dick novel. Rest assured; it will be some time before a mechanical Rutger Hauer look alike starts delivering your mail.

However, for decades now, the efficacy of AI and automation, mixed with huge steps forward in robotics, has been responsible for a slow progression of workplaces such as factories being largely manned by gigantic mechanical arms, instead of people.

The benefits are plain to see; a robotic arm works with the speed and efficiency that no human can match, it takes no holiday or sick days, and barring some form of technical malfunction, there’s no reason for it to ever stop.

This concept sounds tantalising to many business owners; a study by Oxford Economics states that robots could take over 20million manufacturing jobs around the world by 2030.

Let’s be clear; it’s unlikely that by 2030 industrial estates across the nation will be almost exclusively manned by robots. The largest impact to currently-human-centric jobs will be at multi-national corporations such as Tesla or Amazon.

In fact within the last week Amazon confirmed that its latest robot, named the Sparrow, had been rolled out across most warehouse locations. The firm is ramping up the use of robots as sales growth reportedly slows and it faces pressure to cut costs – read, get rid of salaried workers, and replace them with more economical robots.

In these early days, already around three quarters of the packages delivered by the e-commerce giant have been touched by some kind of robotic system. If Tye Brady, Chief Technologist, is to be believed, this number will rise to almost 100% within the next five years.

Perhaps we’re closer to the Philip K. Dick dystopia than we previously believed. Yet Brady is adamant that, despite the steep rise in robots performing the tasks that, until recently, were allocated to a human, people will always be a key part of the process.

"Jobs will change for sure, but the need for humans will always be there," Brady recently told the BBC. Exactly how many humans will retain jobs within the organisation when the picking, packaging and delivery processes are entirely automated, Brady did not say.

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