Across the world, robots and automation are on the rise. On average, there are now 74 robots to every 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry. In Europe, the figure is closer to 100. Robots have applications across many industries including retail, manufacturing, oil and gas, technology and healthcare. But with robots increasingly present in our workplaces, comes the fear that they will take over completely.

Worries about job losses

There are legitimate concerns about automation and robotics displacing jobs and where displaced workers will go. That said, job displacement because of technology isn’t something new. Many industrial revolutions before today have seen workers move into different roles – often more challenging and ‘human’ orientated. However, the scale of this shift will be vast and will impact many people. It’s expected that 50% of all work activities will be done through automation, with up to 375 million workers expected to shift roles because of it.

The need to re-skill

Due to this, many people will have to re-skill in new areas. Transferable and soft skills will also be in high demand as a computer cannot easily replicate this. The onus for this shouldn’t fall solely to individuals, although they may have to take on the majority responsibility for their upskilling. Organisations will also have to step-up and help current workers upskill and move into new roles if they are displaced. On a wider level, governments may also have to implement nation-wide programmes to ensure nobody is left behind in the robot-powered future.

Advances in technology

The acceleration in robot adoption has come about thanks to advances in technology. There are more use cases for robots, plus they can undertake activities that are impossible for humans, with greater speed and efficiency. This makes them an attractive proposition for business leaders.

Making robots was traditionally tedious and expensive. It required machine learning (a form of artificial intelligence – AI) to learn how to move and complete tasks. Automation, too, relied on advances in AI to become more accurate and viable for businesses. Now, because AI is advancing towards general artificial intelligence (AGI – where an AI can mimic human intelligence), technology like robotics and automation are attracting the C-Suite’s attention. 3D printing technology is also making it easier to create customised robots at scale, including ‘soft’ robots made out of rubber and cloth.

Complementing, not in competition

In such developments, it’s vital to remember that technology and people aren’t supposed to be in competition. Technologies like automation and robotics are there to complement a human’s role. Although some jobs will be completely automated, the majority won’t. Plus a host of new roles will emerge. A decade ago, not many people had heard of a social media manager, for example. Coming years may see an increase in AI ethicists, robot team managers and personal data brokers.

Augmenting humanity

Machines are better at certain activities compared to humans. Lifting heavy objects, finding patterns, analysing large datasets and moving with precision, for instance. Meanwhile, with automation picking up manual and time-intensive tasks, humans are free to work on more creative, abstract and relationship-building activities. So, by working with robotics and automation, humans can achieve more and augment their existing skills.

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Tech for Life is a movement. We champion the responsible creation and use of technology, and provide leaders with a framework based on our guiding principles. The forthcoming Tech for Life book outlines our vision for a world where technology works for us, not against us. It provides examples of how responsible technology is already being created and used. And it calls for leaders in technology to commit to the five Tech for Life principles. Tech for Life is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.