We help our customers transform industries and enable new ones through automation and human augmentation.
“Now, Hans. We have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now, we can go to the library. Because this is the magic - you load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machine.” - Hans Rosling, quoting his mother in his Ted talk “Hans Rosling and the magic washing machine”
Robotics with Artificial Intelligence (AI) are set to have a huge impact on our lives, with the potential to do a lot of good. They can assist in our existing jobs, create paid work for us, and automate a lot of the manual, repetitive work we’re stuck with day to day. Just as Hans’ washing machine demonstrates, by freeing us of the repetitive work, we stand to gain a huge amount of free time – time that can be spent on useful tasks, or just relaxing. I want to discuss why we shouldn’t fear the arrival of the robots and should do our best to speed it along, instead of biting the hand that could literally feed us.
Augmenting our jobs
It’s hard to think of an area of society which couldn’t benefit from extra accuracy, or a reduction of manual labour. In education, AI can reduce the workload of teachers by providing exercises and marking books. In healthcare, robots can provide heavy lifting of patients, help with diagnoses, even spend time with care home patients using games and social interaction. In farming, robots can increase the yield of our farms by checking when crops are ready, harvesting them, and replanting them afterwards – this is how robots can feed us!
It isn’t just the lower skilled jobs that have a lot of manual work. Some chemistry experiments need a lot of separate samples measured out to a high degree of accuracy. Imagine if a robot could sit in the corner of the lab, on a bench, dispensing hundreds to thousands of samples automatically - how much time would that person be saved? Hours that could be spent devising improvements to the experiment, writing up results, or just kicking back and grabbing a coffee. So many repetitive actions could be given to a robot, giving us the time to work on the areas we’re really interested in.
Creating paid work
Where robots, and computers in general, really excel is in doing a lot of highly repetitive tasks with little to no creativity. Moving parts along a production line is mechanical work, which is a good reason to use robots, but robots are by no means perfect. A lot of staff are needed to support the robots - supervisors, repair technicians, safety officers. As robots take the mechanical work, they create a need for more creative and high skilled work.
Besides robots doing jobs humans can do, there are robots taking on jobs humans can’t do - and all of these robots need supervision. We find it quite difficult to swim at the bottom of the ocean, and it’s pretty hard to survive on the surface of Mars (let alone grow potatoes there). Robots can survive in extreme environments, but still need human support to function correctly and be useful. They’re also so good at repetitive work that they can take on tasks humans wouldn’t even consider, like moving through a field and spraying only the crops showing signs of disease - so not only are they improving the amount of food per unit of land, but they’re allowing us to farm larger areas through automation. An increase in goods produced means more work cleaning, processing, selling - all the work that comes with production in general.
Improving our lives
The point that Hans makes so well in his video is that decreasing the amount of manual labour we have to do increases the free time we have - with great benefits. More free time means less stress, more time to do those important tasks you’ve been putting off, fewer distractions from what you want to do - and all this made possible by some automation in our homes. Even now, our phones can heat and light our houses automatically, and what could be next? Help cooking dinner, cleaning clothes, driving the kids to school? With our menial tasks done for us, the future stops being as tedious and becomes downright exciting.
An understated but incredibly useful application of robotics is in care facilities for the elderly. If robots are making the tea and hoovering the halls, the carers have more time to spend with the elderly, improving everyone’s experiences. Robots can provide physical support when people are moving around and automatically watch in case of accidents. They can even provide social interaction through games or conversation, to the point that the elderly staying at home is becoming more and more likely as their every need is seen to by their mechanical companion.
What’s next for robots?
The robotics industry is already growing massively, with big improvements to AI happening all the time. We are seeing the costs of sensors and computing power being driven down, which is surely the perfect opportunity to invest in the development of robots. If we make sure that robots are developed to be safe, we could easily see new jobs created, better performance in our existing jobs, and our entire way of life improved.
If we want to reap all the benefits, then we will have to embrace this technology, not bite the metaphorical mechanical hand. We need to be supporting the advancement of robots – welcoming them into our lives and publishing advances for the world to see. We need only to look at other historical examples – automatic telephone line connections, computers – to see that automation improves our lives. Let the robot revolution commence!