The fear of being displaced by robots is real - especially so during the current pandemic. Now, this seems to be a question of when not what if, and the notion has left many everyday workers very uncomfortable with the threat of being made redundant.
According to Martin Ford, a futurist who studies how robots will slowly but surely be integrated into our economy, “People usually say they want a human element to their interactions, but COVID-19 has changed that. [COVID-19] is going to change consumer preference and really open up new opportunities for automation.”
How has this manifested itself in our lives?
Businesses, for example, are moving towards using robots to assist in enforcing social distancing between our fellow humans. Restaurants too are limiting the number of works on premises. Think these are limited to small-scale businesses? Consider how robots in South Korea are now replacing human workers in measuring temperatures of the population and even given the responsibility to distribute hand sanitisers.
With more emphasis being made on maintaining social distancing, it is therefore not hard to see how we’re moving closer towards a reality where robots can replace work that normal humans usually do.
Could this explain the soaring demand for robot cleaners?
Businesses that focus on robot cleaners and sanitizers have seen a marked increase in their sales. According to the author of The Customer of the Future, Blake Morgan, “Customers now care more about their safety and the safety and health of workers. Moves towards automation can keep them all healthier and customers will reward companies that do this.”
It’s not hard to see real-world application of this trend. Fast food chains such as McDonalds have been starting to utilize robots as cooks and servers in an effort to improve efficiency and to keep their staff safe from contracting the virus. Leaptron too is offering the ARIS K2, Virus Killing Robot with UV Light, an indoor autonomous mobile robot that kills viruses by UV light, while equipped with infrared temperature checking to check on staff entering the office premises.
With these technological wonders appearing in our common spaces wherever we turn, it is clear therefore that the move towards the use of robotics is here to stay - especially when there is public scrutiny on whether company policies protect their staff from COVID or not.
To AI or not to AI?
With robotics being created to keep the workload off their human counterparts, it’s not unreasonable to make the conclusion that there will be a significant number of workforce and job scope that will be made redundant in the near future. Mega tech companies such as Facebook and Google are using strings of codes to minimise “fake news” or inappropriate content on their platform - details that human moderators could not possibly handle each day.
That said, it must be clear to all that the purpose of technological evolution is created as a necessity to serve the massive demand for better service from us human beings. Perhaps we are responsible for the demise of our own traditional job scope, but strange times such this pandemic has taught us the importance of being nimble and adaptable. If robots must exist to serve humanity, so must humanity evolve to ensure that their role within the economy remains relevant - it is after all up to us how we want to integrate technology into this very world we create for our own.