WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

THE MACHINES ARE HERE

According to a study at Oxford university by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne in 2013, it is predicted that by 2033, automation would have replaced over 47% of jobs available in the world. The robots would have taken over.  Jobs as wide-ranging as sports refereeing, telemarketing, bank loan supervising, insurance underwriting, retail sales and even catering have a 95% or greater chance of obsolescence. The list goes on and on, touching nearly every industry.
After decades of hype, industrial robots are poised to replace human factory workers.
 
In the 1960s, we saw the rise of industrial robots – automated factory machines that manufacture products without human assistance. But six decades later, the robots haven’t taken over yet. There are still millions of people working in factories.
Sure, many of those factories are now in Eastern countries like China, rather than Western countries like the United States. But they’re still around, chugging away – and still powered by human sweat. So it would be reasonable to think that maybe the fears about robots taking over were overblown.
 
Well, think again. Even in the East, industrial robots are on the rise, and factory jobs are starting to disappear. In China alone, there were 189,000 industrial robots in 2014. That number is projected to reach 726,000 before the end of 2019. Indeed, far from being the last bastion of manual factory work, China is now pioneering fully automated factories. In 2017, a cellphone factory in the industrial city of Dongguan replaced 590 of its 650 workers with robots. It then announced its ambition to further reduce its staff to 20 and eventually to zero.
 
The Chinese media hailed the factory as a success story, illustrating the progress of the country’s Made in China 2025  (we will talk about “Made In China 2025” in subsequent posts) economic plan. One of the aims of that plan is to achieve a “robotic revolution,” in the words of President Xi Jinping. 
 
Four factors are helping to fuel that revolution. First, industrial robots are becoming cheaper. Second, Chinese labor is getting more expensive. Third, modern industrial robots’ productivity leaves humans in the dust: the robots can work at higher speeds and with greater precision, 365 days per year, 24 hours per day.
 
The fourth and final factor combines the previous ones with the fact that Chinese factories often make products for Western corporations. Given the lower cost of industrial robots, the higher cost of Chinese labor and the tremendous productivity benefits of automation, those same corporations are now tempted to build their own factories at home in the West. That way, they can eliminate their international shipping costs.
 
Put those four factors together, and Chinese factories have a strong economic motivation to automate their operations. That way, they can lower their prices and keep their corporate clients happy.
 
But numerous factory jobs will probably be lost as a result. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that 77% of jobs in China are threatened by automation, many of them in manufacturing. And that’s just the tip of the automatic iceberg. Advancements in self-driving technology will soon render truck, taxi and delivery drivers obsolete.
 
Imagine it’s the near future. You’re a corporation with an army of industrial robots cranking out your products around the clock, eliminating most of your manufacturing labor costs in the process. But you still have one pesky little problem: getting those products into the hands of your customers.
 
Well, that’s where the robots come in again. The transportation industry is about to be revolutionized by autonomous vehicles. You’ve probably heard about the self-driving cars being test driven on the highways of California – but autonomous trucks are also in the works, with lots of money being poured into their development. Otto is one of the companies leading the way, and it was recently bought by Uber for $700 million.
 
By 2025, one-third of all American trucks could be automated. At first, they’ll only be allowed to pilot themselves on highways, but eventually, drivers won’t be needed to navigate trickier local roads either. There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, so that’s going to put a whole lot of people out of work.
 
Around the same time, Uber, Lyft and traditional taxi drivers will start joining the ranks of the unemployed. Here, too, Uber has been leading the charge. In 2014, the company hired almost the entire robotics department from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where it’s been testing a fleet of self-driving taxis since 2016. Around the same time, Lyft got in on the action, too, with a $500 million investment in autonomous vehicle technology.
 
Delivery drivers are also under threat. Domino’s Pizza is already trialing self-driving food delivery cars, and package delivery drones are being developed by Amazon, FedEx, UPS and DHL. Oh, and speaking of drones, there are automated flying taxis already being built by the Chinese company Ehang, and several of them are already in limited operation in Dubai.
 
The future of automated transportation is coming fast, and it’s being driven by rapidly advancing technology. For example, the sensors in self-driving cars are getting increasingly sophisticated, enabling them to be responsive to unexpected events, like a dog running across a foggy road at night. As a result, from 2015 to 2016, the rate at which human engineers needed to override autonomous vehicles on test drives fell from 0.5% to 0.2%.
 
Soon, that rate will probably reach zero, at which point, the technology will have fully arrived – probably by the mid-2020s.
 
To be continued….
 
Please leave your thoughts and comments in the comments box provided below.
 
Have a fruitful day!
Olusola Bodunrin is a graduate of Philosophy
from the University of Ado-Ekiti. He is a professional writer, he writes
articles for publication and he anchors – ‘What You Should Know’ on
SHEGZSABLEZS’ blog.

‘What You Should Know’ is a column that offers to
educate and enlighten the public on general falsehood and myths.

Olusola Bodunrin
Olusola Bodunrin is a social commentator with a passion for gathering facts on social issues. He is writer, businessman, blogger, and wardrobe consultant. He is a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Ado-Ekiti. He anchors – ‘What You Should Know’ on SHEFFA. ‘What You Should Know’ is a column that offers to educate and enlighten the public on general falsehood and myths.