Will robots make us jobless?

Robots are already among us. One hundred years ago a Czech writer Karel Čapek introduced the word «Robot» in his novel R.U.R, presenting a sci-fi anti-utopia, where artificial people annihilated its own creators. Real robots don’t want to rule the world, packing the human kind in bioreactors. What they really do is much worse, they strive for our jobs.

Although unemployment slowly wanes in the USA and the EU, leading nations to the pre-crisis level of employment, some politicians concern to speed up the process. A prominent statement of Donald Trump to bring the manufacturing industry back from China and flood professional networks with vacancies is certainly a brave, but belated move. The Chinese manufacturer of iPhones, Foxconn already replaces people with machines, planning to fire 360 thousand of workers and put robots at production lines in 5 years. The reason is simple. The typical welder earns 25$ an hour, while a universal robot, which can perform any industrial job for 2$, depends only on the costs of the internet and electricity.

The futuristic free labor facilities, where sensors automatically monitor the usage of resources, arrange logistic routes and get orders directly from the consumers without any human mediation, will change the modern industries in terms of physical production and informational organization. All the factories will connect to the common databases, giving the responsibility to settle the entire workflow to the artificial intelligence.

For the European Union, the upcoming industrial revolution is also a warning sign and new opportunity. The EU manufacturing presents 15% of GDP. The latest goal is to increase the contribution of industry to GDP by reaching 20% by 2020. The entire burden will fall on the shoulders of robots and cyberspace. As a European Commissioner Günther Oettinger says «The EU manufacturing sector accounts for 2 million companies and 33 million jobs. Our challenge is to ensure that all industrial sectors make the best use of new technologies and manage their transition towards higher value digitised products and processes, commonly known as “Industry 4.0″».

Industry 4.0 is a new technological trend that will digitize the industrial facilities, immersing them in the boundless databases of the internet. The term appeared in 2011 in Germany as an urge of the government to modernize the traditional chemical and mechanical sectors. The name alludes to the fourth industrial revolution of the internet. The previous ones followed the invention of the steam-engine, assembly line and computer.

The Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel deeply concerns the rapid automatization of the manufacturing and says that «We must deal quickly with the fusion of the online world and the world of industrial production. Because otherwise, those who are the leaders in the digital domain will take the lead in industrial production».

For Germany, which large industrial base represents 22 percent of the GDP, the Industry 4.0 will drive additional revenue growth of about €30 billion a year, or roughly 1 percent of Germany’s GDP. According to the Boston Consulting Group, all the industrial sectors are going to gain 10% of production improvements and boost the national manufacturing by €150 billion during the next 5 years.

A business development manager of a Berlin company «Cassantec» Marina Swjagina says that Industry 4.0 is the most popular topic in consulting firms. Entrepreneurs of machinery and food production are very interested in the benefits of digital automatization and actively cooperate with the technical advisors of Cassantec. As Marina notes, besides time and resource savings, the clients often question about the qualification of workers, who will maintain systems and robots. The answer is that Industry 4.0 requires basic programming skills and will move the lion’s share of staff to IT departments.

Marina adds that the most active implementers of the trend are big corporations, which have enough money for numerous training courses, while SMEs are a bit more hesitant. Moreover, there are still plenty of experienced, but elderly businessmen in Berlin, who see the inevitable dismissals as a dubious charge for the technological boost.

According to the calculations of a professor of Oxford University Michael Osborne, 47% of all the regular jobs will be automated in the next 20 years. The spheres that are labeled as being under the high risk of computerization include sales, logistics, service management, production and administration support.

But if the economic boost takes its power from the diminishing of the human expenses, replacing numerous workers and qualified organizers with universal robots and self-organizing cyberspace, what would happen with the people, who find themselves not clever enough or just too old to work in the jungle of wires and code lines?

On the 31th of May, the European Parliament published a draft report with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics. The report introduced a new legal status called «Electronic person» and suggested to impose a set of rights and obligations on robots, some of which overlap with the human ones. The world hasn’t yet heard of a court case, where a person accused a robot because of modernization. However, the EU already works on the possible issue by outlining the future legislation base that will protect the countries from a sudden invasion of artificial workers. Even the abstract and wide first law of Isaac Azimov, which proposes «A robot may not harm a human being» doesn’t consider many social challenges.

The report passed with 17 voters, meaning that it will be presented in front of the European Parliament in February. The initiator of the report is a socialist MEP Mady Delvaux-Stehres, who worry about the jobs that might disappear forever. “We ask the commission to look at what kind of jobs — or more precisely what kind of tasks — will be taken over by robots». If the percentage is too high, the European Union will have to tackle the issue by means of a general basic income that must encompass the surplus of the accelerating digitalization.

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