Robotics and the Future of Work

How are robotics used in the workplace? Most people would be surprised to learn how widespread their use actually is – from health care to retail to farming, robotics play an important role in many industries across the world. Read on to learn more about how robotics are changing the way we work, and how it might change even more in the future!

Who are Robots
Robots are machines that can automatically perform specific tasks. Robots often operate on mechanical or electromechanical systems with built-in adaptive behavior. Many have sensors that provide feedback on their environment, allowing them to adjust their behavior or compensate for changes as a result of their activity. Adaptive behavior may include classification, navigation, motion planning, learning, reconfiguration and others. The key advantage to robotics is they make better decisions than humans in performing some kinds of tasks such as in hazardous situations where risk to humans is high; because they don’t get tired or bored; they do not need rest breaks or pay; they do not age (if they are properly maintained); and there are potentially unlimited numbers available depending on how complex their manufacturing processes are.

What can Robots do
Robots can already do a lot. In fact, thousands of robots are already at work in different industries around the world. Robots help weld car frames, pick apples from trees, and even create artwork. But there’s no doubt that we’ll see even more advances in robotics technology over time. That said, it will still be some time before they’re commonplace—not only because they’re expensive to buy but also because they’re complicated to program—but it seems clear that within decades we’ll be living in a world full of intelligent machines capable of doing everything from building homes to taking out our garbage. If you’re curious about where today’s robots fit into our culture and economy, keep reading! You might be surprised by what you find.
Given how much automation has advanced in recent years, it may seem like everyone is worried about losing their jobs to robots. However, according to one 2018 report by Mckinsey & Company, only 5% of jobs around the world are highly susceptible to automation. While some professionals—such as physicians or financial analysts—may not have much cause for concern given current trends in AI development, others who hold positions as drivers or landscapers likely aren’t safe either; a 2015 Oxford study suggests that roughly half of all American jobs could be automated using current technologies. Still other experts believe few employees will ultimately lose their jobs due to increasing automation; rather than eliminating workers completely, tech companies could turn towards employing humans and cutting back on extraneous costs associated with capital-intensive machinery and equipment.

How Do They Work
These days, you can’t read about much more than robotics—specifically, how robots will soon replace workers (at least partially) on assembly lines and in warehouses. The reason is simple: Robots don’t get tired. They never call in sick. They need no healthcare plan or childcare benefits. And they don’t require vacation time or pay raises… ever! Plus, they won’t ask for that $10/hour raise you’ve been pushing for. So why aren’t we replacing all our employees with robots? Because a well-trained worker is still more valuable than a robot programmed to perform just one task… right now. But what happens when the cost of an industrial robot drops below $50,000? That’s where things get interesting. For example, Amazon recently purchased Kiva Systems for $775 million. Kiva makes robots that move products around their warehouse floor. With Kiva’s help, Amazon has cut its fulfillment costs by over 30%. Now imagine if those fulfillment costs dropped another 50%… it’s easy to see how quickly a company like Amazon could become unstoppable. What does all of this mean for your career? That depends on your job title and salary range. If you’re working as a factory worker making less than $50k per year then there’s a good chance your job could be replaced by automation within 10 years.

Where Are Robots Used
Unsurprisingly, robots are most commonly used in manufacturing. They’re especially popular for jobs that are too dangerous for humans or ones that require an inhuman amount of precision. That’s why so many robots have found their way onto factory floors. The manufacturing industry is also among those most vulnerable to automation (roughly 70 percent), meaning that more companies are looking to robotics as a solution. In fact, one study estimates that by 2025, there will be 1.3 million industrial robots operating worldwide—and about half of them will be in China alone. With such growth on the horizon, it’s worth considering how these changes will affect your career prospects—especially if you want to work with your hands.

Future technology in black prosthetic hand on white. 3ds max render. Futuristic innovation – artificial arm

The Future is Near
According to some, like technology writer Bill Gates, robotics will be an essential part of tomorrow’s workforce. Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses…It’s progressing…Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model. There is going to be a need for labor; we’re not describing zero employment. But what kind of jobs? We’re used to getting higher wages when we get more productive. Now there’s a connection between productivity and profits, but not necessarily between productivity and wages. –Bill Gates

Examples of Robotics in Everyday Life
When we think about robotics, many of us picture robots like those used in manufacturing processes, but robotics is more ubiquitous than that. Have you ever walked into a hotel room that was automatically cooled by a thermostat? Maybe you’ve ordered something from Amazon using an app on your phone, only to have it delivered via drone. Many people have experienced automation in their everyday lives—we just don’t necessarily know it. We can expect these technologies to continue improving as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated. For example, autonomous vehicles are already being tested on our roads, and medical professionals are working to create robots that can perform surgery autonomously. While some experts predict that robotics will replace human workers entirely, others argue that humans will be able to collaborate with robots to improve productivity and quality. Regardless of how things play out, one thing is certain: Robotics technology has advanced rapidly over recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. If you want to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in robotics, check out IEEE Spectrum for news stories related to all aspects of robotic technology.

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