Robots – Friends or Enemies?

Author: Jake Herington

We hear a lot of talk in the media today about the imminent take-over of robots and autonomous technologies, and how they threaten to change the way we live forever. Jobs in industries such as agriculture and manufacturing seem to be going the way of the dodo (or phonebook), and autonomous vehicles will make driving a thing of the past. The ‘threat’ is very serious; robots will change the way we live and work forever. But is this a bad thing? Will the eventual automation of everyday life cause the downfall of society as we know it?

Well, maybe not. Let’s take a look at the potential benefits of robotic technologies in society, something not addressed as much in the media.

One of the major benefits we will see as more and more robotic technologies are introduced is the amount of time and money saved as a result of automating tasks and chores. Nobody wants to mow the lawn, that could be time better spent relaxing on the back porch, sipping iced-tea. Or, for the more productive types, wouldn’t you rather spend the time taken vacuuming the house to work on your next big project? There’s also potential for cost cutting in areas such as training, salary expenditure and insurance costs related to liability. As a result, robotic technology could save people hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars every year. And with growing pressure to keep up with a society that seems to be moving faster and faster everyday, time (and money) is something nobody can waste.

Occupational health and safety has certainly come to the forefront of the public agenda in recent years, evident from the significant amount of legal reform and policy regarding health and safety risks in the workplace. It makes sense. Even performing the simplest of tasks, like cleaning a window, we want to be aware of potential risks and know we will be ok if something goes wrong. (Like getting window cleaner in your eye!) Well then, consider the idea of a robot performing all these ‘dangerous’ tasks. Nobody cares if a robot gets hurt. The use of robotic technologies could potentially eliminate all kinds of health and safety risks that occur as a result of human error. Take for example the lawn maintenance sector where 200,000 people – 16,000 of them children – are injured in lawnmower related accidents each year. (According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.) Robotic technology could also be a major benefit in a domestic setting for someone with a disability.

All of this sounds great right, but what about all the jobs that will be lost to automation? What’s the point of having these things if we cant afford the cost of living?

Here’s something the media won’t tell you. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that as automation increases, the demand for workers to handle the rise in output and production will also increase. Since the ATM was introduced, for example, jobs in the banking sector have only increased. The money saved through automating part of their service model prompted banks to increase their number of branches, requiring staff. The evidence also suggests that wages of jobs created by automation will increase as the workforce becomes better trained in its ability to perform the tasks only they can provide. From a global perspective, we can see evidence of this being true. In France over the last 15 years, for every job lost to internet-based technology, 2.4 jobs have been created as a result.

Media and society drive the narrative that robotics and automation will mean the end of the working class. But if we consider the potential benefits of robotics and autonomous technologies as they become integrated into society, the possibility of a smarter working class becomes clear. Making robots do the work for us creates a safer, more efficient workplace and reduces the need for stressful jobs and chores, so we can get back some of the things we value most – time and money. Think about how automation could make your life easier.

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