Learn to live with robots

China’s once-a-decade census data released last week clearly shows that the world’s most populous country is aging faster than many developed countries, including the United States. People of working age will only make up 60% of China’s population in 2050, up from 75% in 2010, according to the figures.

Even more alarming, Chinese women are expected to have only 1.3 children each in their lifetime, one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. In 2019, only five countries – South Korea, Singapore, Malta, Ukraine and Spain – had lower rates, according to World Bank data. Last year, only 12 million babies were born in China, the lowest number since 1961.

The census results clearly indicate that the world’s second-largest economy is facing an urgent demographic crisis. A shrinking workforce is potentially devastating for a country that has built its reputation as a global factory on low labor costs, a strong supply chain and a favorable tax system.

In recent years, China has lost its advantage in terms of labor costs, a trend that will continue as skilled workers become scarce. The key to staying competitive will be cutting edge technology, including industrial automation, and optimizing the way humans and robots work together.

Upgrading the skills of the current workforce and migrants, estimated at 300 million people, will make the global manufacturing powerhouse more powerful.

And in the midst of the protracted Covid pandemic, the nature of work must inevitably change. To reduce the risks inherent in human interaction, robots do the trick. In the United States, the Association for Advancing Automation reported this month that purchases of industrial robots rose nearly 20% year-over-year in the first quarter. Significantly, most went to companies outside the automotive sector. Orders from consumer companies rose 32%.

The pandemic has motivated hotels, restaurants and other “very sensitive” businesses that come into contact with consumers to integrate social distancing into their business models, which may have the effect of reducing the number of employees.

In India, where Covid cases and deaths rank second only to the United States, a ping-pong robot was imported from Germany as a training partner for a table tennis player who could not find a human opponent during the lockdown. If the sports world is ready to embrace such innovation, surely others will consider automation too.

While no one can predict the future, we can certainly see robots touching virtually every aspect of life. The integration of technical design and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning opens a new frontier. Robots have played an important role in industry, but are increasingly present in other areas.

In healthcare, robotic devices are now helping surgeons using AI. Robots perform minimally invasive operations and can be used in more complex procedures to make precisely targeted incisions that limit bleeding.

More and more, robots are supporting humans at work and in their personal lives. They can teach, entertain, help care for the aged and infirm, and in some cases, serve as close and compassionate companions in a world made more lonely by lockdowns.

Robotics and advanced technologies could be harnessed to help solve the significant challenges of aging societies and environmental threats to global conflicts. As the capabilities of robots evolve beyond our expectations, our jobs will change dramatically.

Companies are developing their expertise in AI and robotics in hopes of reducing costs, increasing efficiency and enabling new business models. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that more than $ 67 billion will be spent globally on robotics by 2025, up from just $ 11 billion in 2005.

A lingering concern with robots is that robots are replacing human jobs. Obviously this is already happening in some cases, but you have to look at a broader perspective. Oxford Economics has estimated that up to 20 million manufacturing jobs globally could be replaced by robots by 2030. However, he noted that increasing automation will also boost jobs and economic growth.

A report from the World Economic Forum also supports this hypothesis. He estimates that “52% of current tasks will be replaced by 2025, and automation would eliminate 75 million jobs by 2022”, mainly in the service sector. Nonetheless, he said a “robot revolution would create 58 million net new jobs over the next five years.”

Regardless of his stance on robots, one point is clear: we humans must learn to adapt. What is equally important, in my opinion, is that we never stop improving ourselves so as not to fall in the middle of the rise of machines.

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