Robots – friend or foe?

wazoku Blog

“The robots are coming!” is a very common phrase these days and you may have heard it, even if you aren’t a science fiction geek. In fact, the robots have been on the way for a while, as in the last few years, there have been significant improvements in robotics. News on the impending technological singularity (where computers, networks or robots would be capable of progressively redesigning themselves, also known as artificial intelligence) appear occasionally on the news, sometimes with great results, other times with scary outcomes.

Change shouldn’t be feared

Whether this sounds like a welcome idea or your mind immediately conjures images from the Terminator films, one thing is undeniable: robots and automation are here to stay and will be changing the world.

However, this isn’t necessarily negative, there are numerous examples of the positive impact of this technological innovation. Last week, a surgeon robot performed “sutures (that) were more consistently spaced and showed less leakage than the ones done by an expert surgeon.” There is nothing to fear here – maybe unless you are a surgeon.

Robots have for decades now, performed hard and repetitive tasks (in the manufacturing sector, for example) and liberating humans from manual labour, though not without criticism. With technological progress, the robot’s abilities to perform other more specialised tasks and in some cases, are getting closer to human capabilities.

Overcoming fear and anxiety

When you read a headline such as ‘Designers: Robots are coming for your jobs’, it’s hard not to feel a pang of anxiety and fear for the future. This grants a spin on the Martin Niemoller quote “First, they came for the factory workers, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a factory worker… Then they came for the surgeons and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a surgeon, when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” It might be an exaggeration but it does translate what might be going through some minds. This kind of disruptive change is very scary, as the first thought on everyone’s mind is that they’re going to be losing their jobs and the world will be turning into a B-series dystopian future sci-fi film.

There will be some loss of jobs but according to Forbes, this can sometimes be overstated and misinterpreted. Introducing automation means instead of being tied to a desk or a factory post performing a repetitive or menial task, humans can leave the robots to deal with those and be free to pursue more creative tasks. There are plenty of tasks that surgeons are able to perform that robots aren’t – I seriously doubt robots (unless you’re watching Star Trek) will have a good bedside manner or decision making capability. Designers will always have creativity and that is something that cannot be taught and there will always be something that robots will never be able to replace humans in doing.

More spare time for everyone

By freeing up workers from being bogged down by menial tasks, they can focus on other areas, such as engagement, well-being or innovation. By decreasing time spent at work and improving life-work balance, workers become more productive. This is already a reality, with countries such as Sweden introducing six-hour work days. Just because humans aren’t doing the work, doesn’t mean there won’t be wealth to distribute. Some argue introducing a basic and universal income would solve the problem of too many people seemingly out of work. This has a lot of ramifications and in theory, sounds like a good solution, even if a bit utopian.

Technological change isn’t a bad thing – it’s a matter of perspective. In a world that is constantly evolving, innovation isn’t something to be feared, but something to be embraced. That doesn’t mean that organisations and their people won’t have to adapt to a new reality, which they will, no matter how much they might not want to. Let’s embrace automation and make friends with the robots.