Robots: Reinventing the American Workplace
Written By: Christine Dantz
[We will be writing a series of articles on automation, AI (artificial intelligence), and the effects on the human workplace from different perspectives. This is our first story.]
Robots are no longer just a creation of the science fiction writers' mind. They are real and a part of everyday life. From getting money from the ATM and placing a bet on the self-serve betting machines at the track, to the growing number of fully-automated factories around the world, robots are everywhere.
Now that it's obvious there's no way to stop the progress of robots, it's time to change the stigma associated with them. Americans need to erase the slow-motion movie clip of murderous terminators, and replace it with another famous clip from Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in the Terminator Series,
"Come with me if you want to live."
Technology always brings change, but reality is that we are still here and thriving hundreds of years after the first human lost a job to technology. Here's a look at past, present, and future advances in technology.
The Times, they are a Changin'
It is the immortal words of Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a changin" that say it best. But before you cringe, it's not bad!
- Washing machine: it didn't take over the world. Sure, it eliminated jobs, but women were able to spend less time on laundry giving them more time for other chores and free time.
- A history lesson: "The Future of Work Employment," tells the tale of technology and employment dating back to an inventor, William Lee and the unintended complications he faced when he presented his invention to Queen Elizabeth I in 1589 for her approval.
What did he invent?A drawing of the Lee's Knitting frame from 1867
He made the first stocking frame knitting machine to reduce the amount of labor for hosiery hand-knitters. But what Lee didn't foresee was the queen's reaction, who, instead, saw the invention as a threat to the livelihood of artisans and creating widespread unemployment throughout her kingdom.
Shortly after being shot down by the queen, Lee was forced to flee to France after opposition from the hosiery knitter's guild became too intense for the inventor. Sadly, he would never live to see the success of his invention. With only a few adjustments, the concept of the design has barely changed in nearly 500 years.
History is proof that new technology has forever inflamed the working class, but they've persevered.
- What the Queen saw as a threat to employment, actually created employment with the forefront of manufacturing.
- Knitting machines offered the working class person employment in services outside of trade crafts that required years of training and talent.
- The number of jobs gained far outweighed those lost
- Reduce cost
- Improved turnaround time
- Providing more quality, affordable products for the working class.
After the initial cost of the technology, the goal is to reduce production costs without reducing the quality of the product, and manufacturers throughout the world are doing it.
Robots are the knitting machine of the 16th century
America has time now to meet the demands of robotics in the workplace with the right outlook and training. Some industries will be more affected than others, some are moving towards robotics and automation quickly, other's, such as the pharmaceutical industry, are decades away from any true automation.
Another example of technology and advanced robotics is the service industry. It is the most common occupation in the U.S. and about 90 percent of the Americas workforce is still employed in those occupations 100 years running.
Yes, There Will Be Job Loss . . .
But there will also be job gains. Just look at the chain of successful events told by Industry Week's "How Robots Can Save and Create Manufacturing Jobs."
The tale begins with a problem. America can't compete with the price of manual arc welding in China. The cost of a small arc piece in the U.S. averages 84 cents. The same piece in China costs an average of 40 cents.
How can you reduce the cost, without losing quality and jobs?
You change the type of jobs!
- Lincoln Electric Automation, a Cleveland, Ohio company that builds customized welding robots. Business is going so well for them, that they've furthered their initiative and are investing nearly $30 million in a new Welding Technology Center on its campus that will open for training and education by 2017.
Who is purchasing their customized welding robots?
- Wing Enterprises, Inc., the manufacturer of Little Giant Ladders. When their business expanded faster than they anticipated, they purchased a welding robot system. The system allowed them to build a larger facility and expand the number of employees from 40 to 400!
- Crown Equipment Corporation, an electric fork truck manufacturer in Greencastle, Indiana purchased three Lincoln Robot Systems. They used the systems to launch a new market for the company, allowing them to expand and increase their number of employees from 200 to 335.
America Must Fix the Skills Gap to Win the Tech Wars
This isn't to say that the risk of losing to robotics isn't real. Robotics is here, we can't backtrack to get rid of them. Most of these robots are not mobile, and even as they become more mobile, they need, and will continue to need, to work alongside a human counterpart. The goal for employers should be how to use the robotics and human element together in harmony, where they enhance job performance instead of replacing humans.
Consider some of the robots recently developed with the help of software developer, Madeline Gannon, at Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop. One of her programs, Quipt, allows a robot to track human movements and follow basic instructions.
A researcher for the top tech research firm in Boston, J.P Gownder, has challenged the highly-cited report that was also used in the research for this article, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?"
He predicts a much smaller loss than Oxford Professors Carl Frey and Michael Osbourne's estimate of 70 million jobs lost to robots and artificial intelligence by 2025. How much smaller? Gownder sees a net loss of 9.1 million jobs and that is because of the new jobs that robots will create throughout all the job sectors.
In his report, he notes,
"While these technologies are both real and important, and some jobs will disappear because of them, the future of jobs overall isn't nearly as gloomy as many prognosticators believe. In Reality, automation will spur growth of many new jobs-including some entirely new job categories."
What tasks could a human to Robotics translation program help humans with?
- Lifting patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Rather than take jobs, this robot would reduce injuries, keeping Americans on the job
- Transport supplies, as well as dispense meds around hospitals. Health care facilities are overwhelmed with patients that need care; this reduces the work on doctors and nurses, allowing them to cover more ground when there's just not enough of them to go around
- A robot companion for the blind could help blind people lead fuller lives, including put them into jobs and careers they didn't have access to before. It could even assist other individuals with disabilities.
- Numerous types of robots are deployed alongside, and before, soldiers, saving lives every day, such as the type that detect landmines
- Helping shorthanded farmers get their crops planted, picked, and to the market
The jobs that are coming in the immediate future for robotics repair are a far cry from your 20th century Maytag repairman. What these jobs won't be is white collar, they will be hands on and involve complicated programing and electronics; another reason why all American schools must focus on STEM education. If employers, educators, and government agencies can work together to streamline education to prepare young Americans for future tech jobs, as well as create a similar resource for workers when they are displaced by technological advances, America can get ahead of and win the tech war.
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