Since the 1960’s robots have been cutting humans out of employment, but now, more than ever, business pundits and politicians alike are feeling uneasy about the prospect of robots causing widespread unemployment.
First, what is a robot?
When robots were first portrayed in movies they were somewhat human-like entities, androids with arms and legs and often times a face. Although, in reality, there are many specific forms of robots. In the 20th century robots mainly consisted of huge machined with mechanized arms being controlled often by a human.Nowadays robots are typically things like burger flipping machines in fast food joints, automatic warehouse product transport vehicles, the very popular grocery check out machines where the customer scans their own groceries.
Humans are now being rendered, if not useless, at least redundant. Robots however dumb are efficient and extremely accurate but are limited in several ways.Robots need to be fixed by humans when they often break down. Humans also are still needed to guide the robots in a task they can’t entirely complete all alone.LIke the aforementioned grocery check out. How many times have you had to press the button to call the manager over because of a machine malfunction?
But, there is change on the horizon unfortunately for the human job force.
There is a new batch of robots that are about to hit the scene, which are smarter and better-valued devices able to multi-task and adapt to changes in its environment.
This will be the next industrial revolution－Meet Industry 4.0
The fourth industrial revolution will be powered by the capabilities that make up your smartphone. Low-cost, high-powered computers. Artificial intelligence and high-speed communication.
The result of this will bring forth smarter robots with better sensing and communication abilities that can adapt to different tasks, and even coordinate their work to meet demand without the input of humans.
The modern robot is flexible, can operate independently, and capable of collaboration. This is bad news for skilled workers, shifting from centralized (able to one task) to decentralized (able to several different tasks) collaborative production.
Industry 4.0 will help large-scale manufacturers by now being able to figure out the environment and communicate in an industrial network that can be run and monitored remotely. Each robot will have the ability to gather large amounts of data that will be collected and studied using “big data” (extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.) analysis. The positives from this will amount to improving operating performance and production quality, such as predicting more accurately when maintenance is warranted and scheduling it.
Where small to medium manufacturing plants are concerned, the Industry 4.0 will allow for cheaper and more user-friendly robots, as well as creating machines which can be reconfigured to multitask. The machine can also be programmed to work on many different products and different volume sizes. This is significant in efficiency from previous robots, and more so they are now even learning from their own mistakes and correcting them accordingly.
These machines are smart and getting even smarter by the day, however, they are still not as smart as us. The playing field is still fairly narrow in spite of the big advancements. Next on the frontier is what is termed as “deep learning”. This is akin to big data analysis. Huge amounts of data are processed in real time allowing for a decision of the best step to take. The difference here is the machine learns from the data and then improves its decision making.A prime example of deep learning was demonstrated by Google’s AlphaGo software, which taught itself to beat the world’s greatest Go players.
Special microchips called GPUs (graphical processing units are poised to be the next big thing in applying artificial intelligence to the manufacturing sector. GPUs allow for deep learning to be applied to extremely large data sets at extremely fast speeds. It should be noted that big industrial companies are still hiring a large number of scientists to develop this technology.
With the technology of Industry 4.0 becoming much more readily available to a broader spectrum of companies, this makes for industrial growth and market competitiveness, with a greater understanding of production processes leading to new high-quality products and digital services.
However, it is still up for debate precisely what impact the smarter robotic workforce will have within the manufacturing industry. AI is still in its nascent stages and we could see the 22nd century before the full impact of the modern robot and human labor is obliterated.