Would you welcome a robot co-worker?

The robot workforce is here — are you prepared for it?
7 September 2018

It seems humans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of robots in the workplace. Source: Shutterstock

The idea of an army of robots marching in with the ability to replicate and perhaps even replace the human population has long haunted human consciousness.

The first reference ever made to robots in Western literature dates as far back as the 8th century BC from Homer’s Iliad.  In this ancient piece of fiction, Homer illustrated the concept of robotics by describing mechanical handmaidens who were “endowed with intelligence and trained in handwork by immortal gods.”

Since then, robots have long been the subject of many dystopian science-fiction novels and movies, much to the enjoyment of consumers.

But fast-forward to 2018, and these works of fiction created from pure imagination is rapidly becoming reality.

Many industries are leveraging robotics in their operations, giving rise to the robot workforce. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, it is predicted that by 2030, as many as 800 million workers worldwide could be replaced at work by robots.

The idea of robots with metal hearts and algorithmic veins having the ability to perform actions as well as humans has many of us wondering if our jobs are safe. And the reality is that they may not be.

Researchers at Oxford published a widely referenced study in 2013 on the likelihood of computerization for a variety of occupations. Out of the 700 occupations included, 12 were found to have a 99 percent chance of being automated in the future. These were:

  • Data Entry Keyers
  • Library Technicians
  • New Accounts Clerks
  • Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators
  • Tax Preparers
  • Cargo and Freight Agents
  • Watch Repairers
  • Insurance Underwriters
  • Mathematical Technicians
  • Sewers, Hand
  • Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
  • Telemarketers

It’s become quite ordinary to wake up in the morning and read about yet another job being replaced by automation. Cashier-less stores are becoming commonplace — as are chatbots which are rapidly replacing customer service agents.

Softbank’s “Pepper” robot provides assistance to customers in store. Source: Shutterstock

But while some industries fear the flight of the robots, many are beginning to welcome the idea of a robot-workforce.

According to a survey from Epicor Software Corporation, the majority of respondents (54 percent) believe automated workers could take on repetitive and mundane tasks they would have to perform themselves.

Moreover, workers are already finding themselves working alongside robot co-workers. Of the respondents, 31 percent say that AI, automated machinery, or actual robots are common in their daily work routine.

Introduce automation and robotics into the workplace gives businesses opportunities to upskill their employees into more complex and valuable work. Repetitive tasks can instead be delegated to technology, saving heaps of time and money.

Employees of the future will spend more time on activities that machines are not (yet) capable of, such as the management of people, communicating with others, and applying expertise.

The challenge for business is to prepare workers for the future of robotics and the tech revolution. This will include the training for soft skills like adaptability.