Sci & Tech

Robots Will Be Your Colleagues, Not Your Replacement

A survey of 19,000 employers in 44 countries found 69% of firms were planning to maintain the size of their workforce while 18% wanted to hire more people as a result of automation
Robots Will Be Your Colleagues, Not Your ReplacementRobots Will Be Your Colleagues, Not Your Replacement

Fears that robots will eliminate your job are unfounded with a growing number of employers planning to increase or maintain headcount as a result of automation, staffing company Manpower Group said in a survey published on Friday.
The “Humans Wanted: Robots Need You” report surveyed 19,000 employers in 44 countries and found 69% of firms were planning to maintain the size of their workforce while 18% wanted to hire more people as a result of automation. That was the highest result in three years, Reuters reported.
The report went on to say that 24% of the firms that will invest in automation and digital technologies over the next two years plan to add jobs compared to 18% of those who are not automating.
Just 9% of employers in the annual survey said automation would directly lead to job losses, while 4% did not know what the impact would be.
“More and more robots are being added to the workforce, but humans are too,” said Jonas Prising, Chairman & CEO of ManpowerGroup.
“Tech is here to stay and it’s our responsibility as leaders to become Chief Learning Officers and work out how we integrate humans with machines.”
More than 3 million industrial robots will be in use in factories around the world by 2020, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
The survey found that 84% of firms planned to help their workers learn new skills by 2020, compared to just 21% in 2011.
The global talent shortage is at a 12-year-high, with many companies struggling to fill jobs, according to Manpower.
In Germany, where unemployment is at a record low, a shortage of talent was the top concern of small-to-mid-sized companies heading into 2019, according to a survey by the BVMW Mittelstand association.
The Manpower Group survey found IT skills are particularly in demand with 16% of companies expecting to hire staff in IT.
In manufacturing and production, where industrial robots are increasingly doing routine tasks, firms expect to hire more people in customer-facing roles that require skills such as communication, leadership, negotiation and adaptability.
Employers in Singapore, Costa Rica, Guatemala and South Africa expected to add the most staff, while firms in Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Norway, Slovakia and Romania predicted a decrease in headcount, the survey found.



Robots Poised for Wider Role on Assembly Lines


In their new paper, "Learning Ambidextrous Robot Grasping Policies," published earlier this week in Science Robotics Journal, a team of researchers presented the 4.0 version of Dexterity Network, revealing important new strides made in the area of universal picking, a longstanding challenge for automation innovators, Forbes reported.
"The human hand is a marvel of versatility," said Nell Watson, an Irish engineer who helped pioneer machine-learning-enabled body imaging. "So our hands can, say, over the course of an hour, firmly grasp a hammer, gently stroke an infant's cheek and deftly pluck at a guitar string. But asking a robot to differentiate among such a range of motions is an enormous undertaking."
Robots in manufacturing are notorious one-trick ponies. For 50 years, robotic grippers have worked well, provided they were being asked to grasp one thing and one thing only. 
Among the pioneers pushing into the universal picking realm are Ken Goldberg, William S. Floyd Jr. Distinguished Chair in Engineering, the University of California, Berkeley. In the paper, Goldberg and his co-authors report Dex-Net has begun to traverse a mountainous hurdle: robots having no clue as to the physical world around them, and without any prior models of the objects they must grasp.
This awareness deficiency makes it extremely difficult to get robots out of their single-task comfort zone, the authors write, because of the "inherent uncertainty in sensing, control, and contact physics." 
These are all things human beings take for granted. 
Goldberg and his fellow team members used AI and Deep Learning to train a robot to be "ambidextrous", using two totally different grippers and rapidly choosing the best one to use for each grasp.
Robots finally grasping dexterity would be a colossal event for e-commerce order fulfillment, which is why Amazon has sponsored annual robotic competitions over the past several years.
It still could be several years before robots infiltrate e-commerce fulfillment hubs. However, the industry is inching closer. Experts, such as Goldberg, insist that the era of warehouse-roaming robots stuffing items into boxes is nearly at hand.
Promoters of robotics' potential are almost always quick to play up the notion of machines merely augmenting human capabilities, almost instinctively fending off a backlash that likely does await the robots when they trudge off to factories in growing numbers.

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