The subject of an automated workforce is a tricky one. Statistics are clearly showing its potential, but what will happen to human labour and how will this remain a viable route?
A Chinese factory in Dongguan City has revealed its latest evidence on the matter. The factory recently replaced 90 percent of its human workforce with machines, and it led to an astounding 250 percent increase in productivity and a significant 80 percent decrease in defects.
Changing Precision Technology Company’s factory previously employed 650 human workers to manufacture mobile phones. Now, the factory is run by 60 robot arms that work around the clock across 10 production lines. Only 60 people are still employed by the company — three are assigned to check and monitor the production line, and the others are tasked with monitoring computer control systems. Any remaining work not handled by humans is left in the capable hands of machines.
The drop in the human workforce is worrying as according to Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the factory, the number of people employed could drop to just 20, and given the level of efficiency achieved by automation, it won’t be long before other factories follow in their footsteps.
This efficiency obviously comes at an alarming price, though: our jobs. In fact, according to a joint study conducted by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School, “[…] 47 percent of jobs in the US are ‘at risk’ of being automated in the next 20 years.”
These are not just limited to factory work either. With advances in technology, machines will soon be able to take over tasks in a variety of industries and do them just as well as, if not better than, humans. Already we have robot lawyers capable of defending parking ticket violations, robot “journalists”, an AI that can deliver a medical diagnosis as well as a human doctor and even AI therapists that can outperform their human counterparts in terms of drawing out necessary personal information from patients.
Fortunately, both private organisations and governments are putting some serious thought into this subject and have come up with some potential solutions to address widespread employee displacement.
Among those is universal basic income (UBI), a system in which all citizens of a country receive an unconditional amount of money on top of income they generate through other means. Pilot studies in countries like India, Canada, and Finland have already begun, and thus far, they’ve delivered promising results. It’s too early to say if UBI could address widespread job loss due to automation head on, but it could ultimately prove to be an empowering economic move as the transition is made.
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