Will the rise of the cyborg save human work?

Will the rise of the cyborg save human work?

Advances in robotics, alongside increasing workplace automation, have sparked fears that human workers will soon be made redundant.

Many predict that blue-collar jobs – such as warehouse work, factory work and delivery driving – may soon be taken over by robotic successors.

Chinese factories have already laid-off human staffers, replacing them with robot counterparts, as the output of Sino industrial robots grew by over 30% last year.

A mobile phone factory in Dongguan has already replaced 90% of its human staff with robots, with the General Manager claiming that productivity has increased and less mistakes are made.

And two of the world’s most recognisable brands, Adidas and Apple, are also, respectively, engineering robot-only factories and using suppliers that rely on robots to make their products.

Whilst this video of a Chinese factory had workers around the world fearing for their workplace status.

With a recent University of Oxford study predicting that specialised and white-collar jobs may also be under threat – including accountants, oil technicians, watch repairers and butchers – does this spell curtains for all of our jobs?

Apparently not.

Thorsten Wuest, Assistant Professor & J Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow in Engineering at West Virginia University, David Romero, Professor of Advanced Manufacturing at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, and Johan Stahre, Professor of Production Systems at Chalmers University of Technology, all believe that advances in robotics will allow human work to become more versatile and creative.

With virtual assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, and wearable sensors, like FitBits and smart-watches, becoming more commonplace, they predict that many tedious, administrative tasks will no longer need to be done.

Another prediction is that by wearing robotic exoskeletons, and becoming 'cyborgs', workers would be able to work in factories with minimised risk of injury of exhaustion.

Another field in which technology is fast improving is augmented reality, already used by fighter pilots to give them live feeds on their cockpit windows and in the line of sight.

The researchers predict that if this technology became more widespread it could allow workers to concentrate on tasks whilst getting live feeds of direction, assistance and updates.

However, writing in The Conversation, they warn that: “Technology should be designed with collaboration in mind. That way, companies and workers alike will be able to capitalise on the respective strengths of both human and machine.” 

It’s in this way the workforce boffins believe that human workers need not become redundant and will enjoy the benefits of more efficient, safer workplaces.


Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor UK.

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