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How AI, machine learning and robots automation affect global workforce

Richard Hooijdonk
Richard Hooijdonk
International keynote speaker, trend watcher and futurist Richard van Hooijdonkoffers inspiring lectures on how technology impacts the way we live, work and do business. Over 420,000 people have already attended his renowned inspiration sessions, in the Netherlands as well as abroad.

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Technology seems to be getting smarter with each passing day. In fact, it’s advancing so fast that many people fear they’ll lose their jobs to automation. But is it really possible that one day machines will take over our jobs?

According to a study released by the McKinsey Global Institute, one-fifth of the global workforce will be impacted by automation. The study, which was conducted in 46 countries and included 800 occupations, further suggests that one-third of workers from developed countries such as the US and Germany will be relocated to other jobs. As for the workforce in less developed countries, it won’t suffer as much. This is mostly because these countries will continue to have low investments in technology. For instance, in India, only nine percent of jobs will be affected by automation in the future.

Most of this automation is driven by robots. Today, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, robots are used in different applications and industries. And these innovations don’t just perform simple tasks. In the construction industry, for instance, companies are implementing robots to take care of dangerous and complex tasks. But this doesn’t mean that human workers will be made redundant, at least not yet.

This autonomous robot handles dangerous and demanding work

Autonomous RobotsTake the TyBot as an example. TyBot is an autonomous robot designed to take care of rebar-tying in bridge construction. The process consists of tying steel joints before the concrete is poured. Not only is this labor-intensive, but it’s also dangerous because workers often perform this task at great heights.

But TyBot makes things easier. The robot, developed by Advanced Construction Robotics (ACR), is embedded with AI, thanks to which it can navigate a bridge, identify rebar, and tie the intersections. As the robot perform its duties, human workers are only required to monitor its operation and quality of work. Since TyBot can work at night, it could cut labor hours in half, saving money. For instance, in 2017, the robot was used on the Freedom Road project in Pennsylvania, which consisted of building three bridges. Thanks to TyBot, the contractor was able to cut costs by 35 percent. The robot will become available to other contractors in 2019.

Automating dull and time-consuming tasks

Automation is having an impact on the retail industry as well. The grocery retailer Albertsons, for instance, is planning to use AI-powered robots for local online order picking. When done manually, this process takes a lot of time, so Albertsons is on a mission to automate it.

The tech will first be launched as a pilot in the form of a micro-fulfillment center, but it hasn’t yet been revealed at which store the project will take place. The plan is to create a space within stores that will feature the most popular goods ordered online. After customers make an online grocery order, robots will pick the items and bring them to human workers to prepare them for delivery. This way, human workers aren’t completely eliminated – plus, they don’t have to do these dull tasks. Instead of walking around the store and picking the items, the robots will do it for them.

The Chinese online retailer JD.com has even bigger plans than Albertsons. The company partnered with the Tokyo-based startup Mujin to create the first automated warehouse in the world. The warehouse is equipped with robots that are in charge of picking and packing online orders. Such tech could be particularly useful in countries such as Japan, which is struggling to find a qualified workforce due to its aging population.

AI robots could solve the worker shortage

In education, intelligent robots could solve the labor shortage. This is particularly the case in Japan, where schools are lacking qualified teachers for English classes. This encouraged the Japanese government to start a pilot project of implementing AI robots into 500 schools across the country. The robots will work with students on improving their writing and speaking skills. Besides robots, schools will also be equipped with tablets, thanks to which students will be able to take online lessons with native English speakers. In the city of Toda, close to Tokyo, students already have a chance to interact with English-speaking robots, and they’re reacting positively to this tech. As Kyodo News reports, students who interacted with the robot say they felt more comfortable talking to a robot than a teacher.

AI RobotsThanks to recent tech advancements, robotic solutions are becoming prevalent in many industries. Construction and retail, for instance, are implementing robots to automate dangerous and repetitive tasks. While some consider robots as job destroyers, the current situation is far less dramatic. So far, robots are doing a great job in solving the labor shortage, and chances are you’re more likely to work alongside a robot in the future than to be replaced by one.


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