There is a real danger that workers are going to be pushed out of their jobs because of the advent of robots — ones that can pretty much do everything that the human workers were meant to do.
This is not some fancy Armageddon, but the reality of the workplace today. Some of us might remember the SaviOne robot that was famously developed by Savioke and unveiled in 2014; this invention was designed to deliver snacks and amenities to guests in their hotel rooms. The potential efficiency and endless energy of this three-foot-tall contraption might mean that there are hotels today that are seriously thinking of sacking the staff to make way.
Some industries are particularly prone to the robot takeover. A case in point is the hotel industry, where attrition by non-managerial staff can hover at around 50%. With a robot, it would be so simple to retain workers for an indefinite period of time without worrying about industrial strife as well as the quirks of individual workers. There are other operations that are putting robots to work as well, including a Momentum Machine robot that can flip burgers with a turnaround time of 10 seconds per piece. That is why Alexandros Vardakostas of Momentum Machines stated that the robot “isn’t meant to make employees more efficient. It’s meant to completely obviate them.”
Will The Workers Fight Back By Providing Alternatives?
There are many reasons why it might not be appropriate to write off the frontline worker just yet. First of all, there are imaginative jobs that involve emotional labor. It is hard to imagine that the robot will able to do these jobs; one dreads to think of a robotic lawyer, doctor, or social worker. The new technological revolution has been marketed as a move towards efficiency, but others are not entirely convinced that it is not a scheme designed to keep inconvenient workers out of the market. Regardless, it is generally acknowledged that the technological revolution is bound to replace many jobs in the very near future.
Just like the weavers were once driven out of business, there are many occupations that are toeing a very shaky line. Research indicates that about 47% of all jobs today may become obsolete over the next two decades. The problem is that the technology startups may not be able to create enough new jobs to replace the old ones. The other challenge is that the staff teams are getting smaller and smaller within the tech industry. For example, in 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion; at the time, Instagram had over 30 million users but employed only 13 people. This belies the notion that you need staff scale in order to build a successful company.
The Way Forward
Some people have suggested protectionism — the restriction of international trade in order to foster domestic businesses — as a response, but that means artificially increasing the costs of production. Any country that does this will soon find that it no longer features on the international market.
Rather than shielding certain jobs, we ought to consider helping the workers in them to stay relevant to the job market. In that way, they will not become part of the industrial attrition story.