It’s not about the future anymore. Robots are already here.
And in a world struck by COVID, robots have assumed a greater significance – be it in healthcare, defence and security, manufacturing, logistics, inspection and maintenance, food and beverage or automotive industry – AI is now all pervasive.
The Oxford Economics study (2019) – a pre COVID world – predicted that 20m manufacturing jobs could be displaced by industrial robots by 2030, i.e. 8.5% of the global manufacturing workforce. The study also found that 1% increase in the stock of robots per worker in the manufacturing sector meant a 0.1% boost to output per worker across the wider workforce. An MIT professor, Daron Acemoglu, predicted that each robot that gets added to the workforce, replaces 3.3 jobs across the U.S.
This brings us to the perennial and much-debated question- are robots taking our jobs?
The answer, as they say, is complicated.
True that A.I. technology is a threat to some jobs, like those in retail, but it’s not as simple as that. When looking at the jobs lost, it’s also important to look at, what’s called the ‘downstream impact’, which creates new jobs as some old ones get taken. So, while e-commerce may have taken retail jobs, it has created more jobs for the delivery sector. In the U S, for instance, since 2014 the number of jobs lost in retail have been balanced by the ones created in light-truck or delivery-service driver jobs.
Also, when it comes to a pandemic, robots are being seen as a help for humans rather than replacement, especially in healthcare. In battling this crisis, robots have enabled people to perform task safely and have helped in handling workload. According to Meticulous Research, professional and personal service robotics will see a rise in demand to tackle the COVID-19 spread in terms of testing and equipment support.
Some examples of these include
- Hand-sanitizing dispensers
- Tools to sanitize spaces and buildings
- Temperature monitoring tools
- Food preparation at hospitals and hotels
- Delivery of medical supplies, essential items etc
A robot uses pulses of ultraviolet light to disinfect a hospital room in Johannesburg, South Africa. MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images
According to a recent study by Texas A&M University and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, aerial robots are playing a notable role in almost every aspect of managing the crisis. The study also reiterates how robots will be a help for people instead of a replacement.
Source: R. Murphy, V. Gandudi, Texas A&M; J. Adams, Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, CC BY-ND (the conversation)
Take hospitals for instance. They have stepped up the usage of robots for real-time human interaction (with supervision, of course). In these times of social distancing and fight against Covid19, robot workers are the perfect answer to shielding humans from health risks.
A nurse (left) operates a robot used to interact remotely with coronavirus patients. (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)
The world as we know has changed into a more automated one post Covid19. Organizations across the globe are now experimenting the utility of robots as they ready for a post Covid19 world. Here are some jobs that robots will be seen doing in the times to come
- Hospitality Robots: With fast-food chains like McDonald’s now testing robots as cooks and servers, you may well be received by one of these in restaurants and cafes after the crisis is past us. This will also include bartending robots – Japan is already leading the way on this one. IN the service sector, humans may be replaced by robots as receptionists and in-room service providers.
- Industrial Robots: With programming making things easy, industrial robots will continue to be of importance in manufacturing jobs, such as assembling of cars and other products
- Warehouse Robots: From packing to storing and finally warehouse moving, these jobs are also taken up by computer-controlled robots. One such example is Amazon’s fully automated shipping warehouse where robots move the products to people who package the products.
- Pharmacy Robots: Walking into a pharmacy will involve s reduced human interaction, as pharmacies move to using robots for handling prescriptions for their customers. Robots would be more efficient and less prone to making mistakes, as compared to their human counterparts.
- Postal Robots: Tedious and monotonous jobs are the ones which are most likely to be replaced by robots. Postal services is one such area which lends itself well to automation – sorting mail is something a robot will be able to do with ease.
- Bomb Disposal Robots: While this may not be the area that springs to mind when you think of robots, but here too robots can be extremely useful. Robot bomb squads are used by the military and police to examine and destroy bombs without endangering human life.
As we learn to live in a new, post COVID world, our reliance on technology is only going to increase and robots will become part of the new normal. Global industrial robotics market is projected to surpass US$ 24 billion mark by 2025, with a growth rate of 25.6%.
It’s time we stopped speaking of AI and robots as something futuristic – the robots are already here, whether we like it or not. We should learn to use them to our advantage, rather than be threatened by them.