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Can Robots + Humans = The Ideal Workforce in Manufacturing?

robots and humans manufacturing

Portions of this article were written by Jeff Green, Social Media Manager at Rethink Robotics and appeared on their blog

In a recent article from American Express Open Forum, our CEO and President Michael Araten spoke about what it’s like to hire a robot, in particular, Baxter, a collaborative robot from Rethink Robotics. The article states “employing a mix of human and robotic employees could become a more mainstream staffing strategy among small businesses in the near future.”

Robots such as Baxter can also help companies save money and increase productivity. At Rodon, robotics and automation have given us a competitive edge, especially against overseas manufacturers. A robot such as Baxter can work 24/7, has no need for benefits or breaks and can be taught a task within minutes.  "The employees love it. They've personalized the machine, and it feels like you're living in the future when you have a friendly-looking robot working alongside you," Araten says. 

The argument of whether robots are going to take over jobs is still out there. In a recent blog post “Robots In, Humans Out, Game Over?” by Jeff Green, Rethink’s Social Media Manager, Rethink discusses the pros and cons.  Founder, chairman, and CTO Rodney Brooks also provides his thoughts on the topic during a discussion recently hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “Robots are good at very simple things like cleaning the floor, like doing a repetitive task. Our robots have a little tiny bit of common sense. Our robots know that if they’ve got something in their hand and they drop it, it’s gone. They shouldn’t go and try and put it down.” 

No matter which side of the argument you favor, it’s quite interesting to see each side make its case, particularly when robotics experts are involved.  Here are some other comments from the discussion forum (Full video below these excerpts):

“…just in the past few years, digital technologies and all their manifestations, including robots, have been breaking out of the little box where they’d been operating and starting to demonstrate capabilities that they never, ever had before that are really impressive when you look at it. This was pretty unprecedented and unexpected and I think it’s going to — it’s already having pretty serious economic consequences.” –Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist and co-founder, Initiative on the Digital Economy, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“…I think it’s very easy for people who are not deep in the technology itself to make generalizations, which may be a little dangerous. And we’ve certainly seen that recently with Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, all saying AI (Artificial Intelligence) is just taking off, and it’s going to take over the world very quickly. And the thing that they share is none of them work in this technological field.”–Rodney Brooks

“…I chose my adjective pretty carefully. I said these advances are going to be economically significant.” –Andrew McAfee

“So let me add another thing. I mean, it’s economically significant, but I see the positive, unlike him seeing the negative. I see more jobs created from digital analytics than jobs being lost here because of digital analytics.” –Abhinav Gupta

“I wish the evidence were lining up with your optimism.” –Andrew McAfee

“…characterization of jobs will change, our education might need to change, but that doesn’t mean that are not going to survive. I mean, we are going to have enough jobs. Robots are going to be helping us, not destroying us.” –Abhinav Gupta

“…the technologies are breaking out of their historical boxes. They’re doing things they could never, ever do before. And they’re eating into the bundle of skills and abilities that we all have to offer. They’re eating into it in a way that we’ve not seen.” –Andrew McAfee

“…the way to go is to have the industrial equipment be smarter and bring the person into the world and be able to understand it so you don’t need to go off and be trained in a particular technology that’s going to change in 10 years anyway, so it’s got to be continuous on-the-job learning, and technology has to provide that.” –Rodney Brooks

“Why is our infrastructure so lousy? Why are immigration policies, as far as I can tell, designed by our enemies? Why are we still turning out the kinds of workers we needed 50 years ago? If we could get these things right, that would be the best thing we could do to improve the prospects for the American worker, and none of it is rocket science.” –Andrew McAfee

“Well, I think we are seeing some shifts in manufacturing. China, when you go in and you talk to the big manufacturers there, the biggest problems in mainland China are recruiting and retention. There isn’t an endless supply of cheap labor anymore in China. And it’s now true that the labor rates in Mexico are lower than in China.” –Rodney Brooks

To view the entire transcript, including a Q&A segment, visit the Council on Foreign Relations. And for more of Rodney Brooks’ thoughts on the topic of AI, take a look at his blog post: Artificial Intelligence Is a Tool Not a Threat

What are your thoughts on the topic of the robot/human relationship in the workplace?  Let us know in our comments section below. 

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Paula Hynes

Paula Hynes

Digital Marketing Specialist at The Rodon Group
Communications Coordinator at The Rodon Group. In-bound Marketing Specialist, professional blogger. Lots of experience in traditional marketing techniques and tools as well.
Paula Hynes
Paula Hynes
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