Robots are the main driver for the jobless economic recovery in the United States and other developed economies worldwide. Companies are deploying robotic assistants to work with their human employees to accomplish a task more efficiently and at a lower cost. Warehouses, call centers, and help desks are some of the primary targets of robotics immediately, but they are from the last.
The deployment of robotics results in the creation of jobless economic growth because the robots are replacing partially or completely the job of one or more workers. While the productivity and economic output of the company is the same, the labor expenditure does not grow correspondingly. This helps companies be more profitable with the gains going to owners and shareholders instead of increased payrolls/employment.
Jobless Economic Recovery
Welcome to the age of ultra-efficient robotics, where robots transmit and receive information without the assistance of human workers. Robots have been around for a long time in various forms, stages, and capacities, and as we transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they are finally starting to resemble Pepper. But robotics is more diverse and complex than Pepper and even the most common conceptions we have formed of robots in popular culture. Robots are already handling significant parts of our lives (whether you are aware of it or not), and they are helping us live better by helping us at home (think Roomba), in factories/Industry 4.0, private drones, military drones, and many other things that are fit the robotics category. What is important, in our opinion, is to understand how we will increasingly interact with robotics in our daily lives along with the second and third-order impacts these interactions will produce.
But first, what makes a robot a robot? Some machines are robots, and others are not. For example, a Roomba is a robot, but a vacuum isn't a robot. A self-driving car is a robot, but a tractor is not. Microsoft word is just software, but other programs are digital robots. You would be surprised to find out that there is no universally accepted definition of what makes a robot a robot; however, we have scaled down the various definitions into what we believe is the most credible and sensible one.
Robots can be physical or digital and can be classified as:
Programmable Machines which can autonomously handle work, tasks, or other issues when presented a set of physical or digital data.
Sense - Process - Act - Repeat Paradigms provide the ability of machines to become "intelligent" or "aware" of their surroundings relative to their tasks. In this case, a machine that interacts with the physical world around it would need the ability to "see" what it is around it so that the information can be processed and then acted upon with an immediate reassessment of the situation. If the machine is digital in nature, the need for seeing would be removed. Still, there would be an increased demand for computational capacity regarding handling data in a particular way.
The Outputs/Actions Must Be Predictable - A machine has to produce standard outputs or take standard actions aligned with the desired results of the designers, operators, or owners.
Additionally, we have to separate the robots of the previous industrial revolutions (let's call them narrow/dumb robots) and the robots of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (let's call them general/smart):
Narrow Robotics - these are the classic robots that have all the features of the robots listed above and worked in very narrow situations. Think about the robotics in factories, Roomba's, and the large assembly arms in car factories. These systems required a lot of programming and could not be programmed to do other things by the end-users. Simple robotics that can perform excellently in narrow situations but cannot do more than the one task they were programmed to do—nothing else.
General Robotics - general robotics can handle diverse activities, be customized to the end-user's needs with relative easiness, and are generally digitally connected to a centralized network and/or the internet to optimize their work. These robots can handle complex tasks on the factory floor, in the office, or interacting with customers answering questions. These are the beginning of the robotics revolution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Now that we have a general working definition for what robotics are, we can identify the items that can be robotized. For example, a tractor currently not a robot can be transformed into one if we added standardized sensing, processing, and action commands to operate autonomously. The same goes for a broad range of machines, programs, and digital applications that can be automated and, as a result, can be converted into a robot.
Robotics is a key player in the automation of jobs and tasks in the blue and white-collar sector in developed and developing economies and, as a result, will have economic impacts around the world. Companies, governments, and workers alike should start considering their impacts on their local and national economies, and the rate of innovation increase in the physical and digital robotics sector picks up. China and, to a lesser degree, Mexico will face significant structural employment issues as the cost of producing in the destination country falls dramatically. The current Baxter Robot, which can operate in the commercial environment, costs around $30,000 total + energy with an overall operating cost of under $4 an hour, which is fairly close to the cost of a Chinese worker when other shipping and logistics costs are factored in.
Likewise, in the developed economies like the United States, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe, it is the white-collar and highly skilled workers who need to be concerned about their future employment security. Traders, accountants, general practitioner doctors, along with all the support staff, will also be automated to one degree or another ranging from 15% to almost 100%. If you'd like to learn more about how robotics and automation work regarding employment, economies, and overall forecasts, you can do so by clicking here or just select Automation from the Technologies menu.
Robotics in Space
NASA has already started deploying robots on the space station and future missions to Mars and the moon. Far from something we would read about in a science fiction novel, robots are already assisting astronauts on their spacewalks by giving them an extra set of hands and, in some cases doing spacewalks that would be too dangerous for a human astronaut to do.
SpaceX and NASA will send a variety of robots to mars to establish many of the basic requirements for human settlements to begin. From exploring and siting the first settlement locations to erecting the first settler buildings. Robots that have the ability to assist us in exploring other plants and developing settlements will increase the likelihood that significant populations will be living somewhere other than earth.
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