Advanced Robotics

What is Advanced Robotics?

Advanced robotics is a new technology that is sure to impact how a business operates. This technology is defined as “any sensor-based robots that attempt to mimic human intelligence. They are used in a variety of fields ranging from manufacturing, nuclear, construction, space and underwater exploration, and health care.” [13] This technology is at an inflection point, meaning, what many used to believe was technology only to be found in movies or fiction is actually becoming reality. [1] Though advanced robotics is sure to benefit the way a business is run, it forces us to question the amount of impact humans will have along side autonomous operations. “How to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century.” [5]

Benefits and Challenges to Operations:

“Moore’s Law shows us that the power of technology doubles quickly and drives down costs swiftly. This means that technology becomes ever more useful, cheaper, and accessible to a larger number of people over a short period of time.” [3] This will translate into most businesses being able to afford and utilize this technology in the near future. With the help of advanced robotics productivity is sure to increase. For example, Chinese developers are constructing a wearable suit which allows labourers to carry heavy loads. “The developers want people wearing the suit to be able to lift 200 pounds, which will increase productivity by allowing workers to easily lift large, heavy pieces of metal.” [2,9] Not only is this a benefit to productivity, but also safety due to the lack of stress or wear and tear on the human body. This suit is in the first stage of robotic development that could eventually be designed to be autonomous. This  would result in no longer needing the human controlling the suit. Another benefit of this technology will be decreased time at a work station and less idle time. If a worker can do the exact job at a faster pace and maintain a level of safety the number of work stations will decrease as many of the time consuming labour jobs can be taken care of in less time do to increased capacity of workers. In addition, not only does this technology improve labour capacity but advanced robotics can create freedom for manufactures if technology becomes autonomous. The benefit in this autonomous technology will enhance the efficiency of the supply chain. Manufacturers in need of large workforces which used to have to locate themselves amongst a large labour pool can now use this freedom to position themselves closer to the consumers or raw materials. [6] This will result in companies having lower costs on shipping and delivering and they can choose the best location without being limited to having to be near a large workforce. Though it seems like the implementation of advanced robotics will result in immediate benefits to a company, there are still many obstacles businesses face when implementing this new technology. One of which is that companies must face a transitional period where both staff and technology can adapt to each other. [10] Without developing a new mentality and training system companies will not be able to reap the rewards. Having machines perform the tedious and more dangerous jobs is beneficial to the workers, but the challenge is to train employees on how to operate and repair these machines in order to maintain or increase productivity.[3] As the industry grows and more advanced robotics are implemented into operations the reliance on people with these skills is going to be instrumental.

Future Impact:

In the past basic robotics and machines have increased workers productivity and therefore wages. The future holds a different structure as the machines are approaching autonomy. With a machine approaching autonomy, the value of a worker will be on a steady decline and eventually become non existent.[4] “McKinsey forecasts that advanced robotics could have an economic impact on the manufacturing sector of between $620 billion to $1.34 trillion annually.” [1] With the Chinese having already purchased and implementing over 157,000 units of robotics in 2013 this technology’s impact is sure to create job displacement amongst a workforce. [6,7] At first this technology is predicted to relieve the stress of tedious and repetitive tasks giving a worker more free time, but will eventually be able to do everything a typical line worker does today. That brings about the question of if any of those jobs will still be available? For example, Rethink Robotics has come out with a product called Baxster. Though is has a fairly expensive base price of $24,000 it is a one time cost and much cheaper than paying an employees yearly salary. Baxster has the ability to perform “90% of the tasks that can’t be practically automated today” such as packaging, loading and unloading, material handling and machine tending.[8] With the use of these robotics job displacement will be at an all time high and workers will need to find a purpose otherwise they will be let go. A statement from the Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, Vint Cerf, states that “historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case. Someone has to make and service all these advanced devices.” In order for workers to avoid losing their jobs they will have to hope Vint’s statement is accurate and that this new technology needs the help of humans to operate. Though this statement focuses on the hopes of humans adapting to technology it isn’t hard to imagine the chance that we will eventually no longer be needed for certain tasks. For example, the company Foxconn has been installing robots to work on jobs such as welding and painting since 2011. They have a goal of installing one million robots and are expanding every year at a rate of 30,000 robots which cost $20,000 each. They claim they are not firing employees at the expense of this new direction but it wouldn’t make sense for them to hire any others if the advancements in robotics can do everything a worker can yet, more efficiently at a cheaper cost.[3] Currently many companies are sourcing their operations to 3rd world countries that will do labour for close to nothing. Moore’s Law states that even those who work for close to nothing doing assembly line work will not be able to compete with machines.[3] In addition to the impact towards line workers, advanced robotics can even impact the future of business that rely on computer transactions. Economist Brian Arthur describes a “Second Economy” that will replace workers with machines that use code. These machines are already being used by entrepreneurs and are replacing workers who would usually manually create transactions. Arthur believes the Second Economy will reach $6.5 trillion by 2024 and replace approximately 100 million workers.[5] The previous claims show that not only are the futures of line workers but also many people who work in sales and online transactions will have their jobs replaced by advanced robotics. These changes will be made to bring about greater productivity and efficiency, but if humans can not adapt and create a need for their services they will slowly be replaced throughout a businesses operations. This problem is already being referred to as “robot smog” as machines continue to take over aspects of a job that were considered to need humans to operate.[13]

Adapting to Change:

In order for managers to ensure their success and ability to employee human workers they must be willing to accept the change and adapt a new belief on what a human brings to the workforce. To ensure their continued success managers must shift to hiring those who are capable of operating and maintaining the new technology in order for it to be productive. Therefore, employees must focus on skills and jobs that include computing, engineering and science as there is going to be a demand for people to service and create the technology that is taking over the duties of humans.[9] For example, the previously mentioned Baxster is a tool that must be taught how to perform certain tasks by in-house employees. Rethink Robotics claims that “with Baxter, the robot is the interface, with a sophisticated yet simple GUI that empowers employees to train or modify the automation themselves.”[8] If this statement holds true with other robotic developments its clear that in order for the advancements to be of use managers must ensure workers are trained and capable to operate and program these machine in order for the company to thrive and reap the benefits of the advancements. In result, if people can not adapt or learn to work with robots the safest jobs that will remain are going to require a high level of education and interpersonal skills. The fact that Moore’s Law shows that robotics is only going to continue expanding at a higher rate than ever before explains that this transition into the future of workplace operations will be the hardest for the workforce to adjust to.[3]

Exam Question:

If advanced robotics were to become fully autonomous what kind of jobs would humans have to change to?

Works Cited:

[1] Lewis, C. (2014, April). From.http://robotenomics.com/2014/04/23/5-areas-in-robotics-that-will-transform-society-and-their-economic-impact/

[2] Geobeats News. (2014, August 5). Shipyard Workers Use Robotic Suit To Have Super Strength. From. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSzvVXiWkSg

[3] Cheang, H. (2015, January 2). Robots: Future Business Automation That Will Impact Human Workers. From. http://blog.etelesolv.com/robots-future-business-automation-that-will-impact-human-workers

[4] Ford, M. (2009, October 23). How will technology affect society in the future? From. https://econfuture.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/how-will-technology-affect-society-in-the-future/

[5] Davidow, W., Malone, M. (2014, December 10) What Happens to Society When Robots Replace Workers?. From. https://hbr.org/2014/12/what-happens-to-society-when-robots-replace-workers

[6] bidnessetc.com. (n.d.) Advanced Robotics Can Benefit Global Economy By Up To $4.5 Trillion Annually By 2025. From. http://www.bidnessetc.com/business/advanced-robotics-can-benefit-global-economy-by-up-to-45-trillion-annually/
[7] Mauldin, J. (2014, August 20). Here’s How Robots Could Change The World By 2025. From. http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-robots-could-change-the-world-by-2025-2014-8

[8] RethinkRobotics.com (n.d.). From. http://www.rethinkrobotics.com/

[9] Thompson, D. (2014, January 24). Here Are The 47% Of Jobs At High Risk Of Being Destroyed By Robots. From. http://www.businessinsider.com/robots-overtaking-american-jobs-2014-1

[10] Tovey, A. (2014, November 10). Ten million jobs at risk from advancing technology. From. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/11219688/Ten-million-jobs-at-risk-from-advancing-technology.html

[11] Kelly, G. (2014, January 4). The robots are coming. Will they bring wealth or a divided society?. From. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/04/robots-future-society-drones

[12] Torc Robotics. (2014, November 21). Three big challenges of automated mining implementation. From. http://www.torcrobotics.com/about-torc/blog/entry/three-big-challenges-of-automated-mining-implementation

[13] Wise Geek. (n.d.). What is Advanced Robotics?. From. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-advanced-robotics.htm

[14] Manyika, J., Chui, M. (2013, May). Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. From. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/disruptive_technologies

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