Automation and Robotics

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On Wednesday 29 January I shall be moderating the Automation and Robotics conference in Dublin. Please find detials here.

Here are my opening remarks with thanks to Forbes, PwC and Quartz for information.

Future of Automation, AI and Robotics

Consulting firm PwC studied last year the impact of robotics and AI on a global scale and found that vulnerabilities do exist for job loss due to automation and robotics, especially over the longer term as smart technologies like driverless cars mature. However, through the early 2020s, only about 3% of jobs have the potential to be displaced. PwC also predicts that robotics, AI and smart automation have the potential to contribute more than $15 trillion towards the global gross domestic product by 2030, generating demand for more jobs.

  1. Robots can’t replace humans

Technologists and engineers will be needed to develop and maintain AI-based systems and smart automation. Other professionals such as teachers, caregivers and creatives will still have jobs. However, they’ll need to “retool” themselves and adjust to a tech-friendly environment.

The bigger upside for the human workforce is that, by automating the more mundane, repetitive or back-breaking tasks, more jobs can focus on higher-level skills that involve innovation, creativity, empathy, complex decision processes or teamwork. 

No one ever said please let me back on the production line..

2. Robots won’t eliminate the human touch.

People in professions like sales, customer support, health care and education will continue to be valued because of their ability to build trust with people, motivate them and help them meet complex objectives. Robots can’t easily replicate empathy and people skills — even if several companies are working on it.

3. Robots and humans will continue to collaborate.

In industrial settings, there are collaborative robots, or co-bots, that can safely work alongside humans without being behind a cage. The robotic arm or cart has sensors that stop its motion if a person touches it or if an object is detected in its path. Such co-bots are already working alongside humans in warehouses and factories.

In retail environments, AI-based systems like chatbots or virtual personal assistants can answer routine questions from consumers and have the smarts to escalate a customer interaction to a human agent to tackle more complex request.

And drones are being used to drop off emergency medical supplies to save lives.

In short, the collaboration between humans and AI-based systems has the potential to make a company more efficient, productive and profitable.

4. More jobs will be created.

It’s rare that an entire job category is wiped out by automation. The case has been made that in the history of the industrial revolution, only one job — elevator operator — was eliminated by technology.  Census study from 1950.  While the government has removed other occupations from the Census due to factors like lack of demand (boardinghouse keepers) and technological obsolescence (telegraph operators), only elevator operators owe their occupation’s demise mostly to automation.

Yes, the tasks humans are assigned are being reshaped by automation, with more emphasis on jobs that center on innovation, teaching or mentoring, and leadership. Over the long term, a net gain in jobs may materialize as entirely new jobs are created or old ones are redefined.

The future may also not be job defined. We will need to educate our kids for jobs as yet to be invented or maybe for not working at all. Maybe our future is to be full time leisure enthusiastics where every day is a weekend day.

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