Who is Afraid of Robots?
About a decade ago, the discussion used to be on whether easterners are taking jobs from the westerners in their own lands and now since we have progressed a bit more, we talk about robots stealing human jobs. I feel, fundamentally this argument is not right somewhere. The kind of discussion we should be having, is on whether we have the skills to sustain the future technological advancements. If we go back in time, there always have been advancements, and only unskilled people were left out. If we want things around us to evolve, we must evolve too.
A job is not one task but an amalgamation of multiple tasks, out of which robots can execute only a few. Robots are designed not to take away our jobs but to aid our jobs, so that we do them with more efficiency and focus on critical problems which a robot cannot undertake. Adapting to this change of industrial automation is a difficult one because the nature of jobs is changing, the skills required are changing while we are still sticking to the old education system. Instead of focussing on enhancing our skills to match the jobs of the future, we are arguing on whether robots are taking away our jobs.
We are into marketing automation; we automate customer services using Conversational AI. People often ask me, “Are you here to take away jobs at call centres?” The answer is obviously no. The software helps solve customer queries, sell your product, auto-communicate instantly while you can focus on solving more complex customer problems. This helps businesses reach out to more customers and solve problems rapidly. The demand for robotics and automation is present in every industry. Aeroplanes are completely automated and with today’s technology they can take off and land without humans, yet we need pilots. Why? Because robots cannot take critical decisions if the conditions are not how the system is coded to work in. There is automation in the medical industry, but we still have doctors. Why? Because a robot helps only to improve accuracy during surgeries, it doesn’t know which artery to operate on next. Automation is huge in the Automobile industry too. We have driving assistance in cars but not driverless cars. We need drivers for the same reason we need pilots. And it is going to take a very long time to have driverless cars working in any scenario. So, if we see, in any industry, robots are just helping us do better.
We are far superior to robots when it comes to creativity, emotional intelligence, adaptability to environment, ability to make critical decisions, logical reasoning, etc. But can robots have these capabilities in the future? Maybe! This brings us to Artificial Intelligence. Massive developments are happening around AI which can give human-like capabilities to machines. People are now scared that AI might take over humans in the near future. The point in time when machines will have human-like intelligence is called technological singularity. I believe that is very far from happening as AI is at a nascent stage, but development is happening at a rapid pace. At this point of time, we need to be very careful about what we are developing, what purpose it is going to serve and its negative impact on society. With so much data, comes great moral responsibility and privacy issues.
While the prevalence of Robots in India was quite low in the past, it is growing at a very high pace. According to the Rockwell Automation on the Move Conference, 2019, Industrial Automation and AI can transform India into a US$1 trillion Manufacturing Economy by 2025. By the year 2022, 9% of the workforce will be deployed in new jobs that do not exist today, 37% will be in jobs that have radically changed skill sets and 54% will fall under the unchanged jobs category. [Source: EY & Nasscom survey on Future of Jobs in India].
To conclude, even if automation takes away a set of jobs, it will definitely create new ones. We will have to upskill ourselves to remain relevant in a fast-changing world. The education should be such that it trains people according to today and tomorrow’s relevance and make them future ready. Also, it is our responsibility to develop machines which will impact mankind only positively and make our lives better.