Robots and the future of human labor

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As a graduate of Computer Engineering and holder of MSc Information Technology, I’m skeptical to write about this topic which is a little bit controversial, because of the divergent views by two opposing groups of people about the topic, but that will be explained later in the article.

As the world is currently in the information age, also known as the computer age, that began in the mid-20th century, characterized by a shift from a traditional industry established by the Industrial Revolution to an economy primarily based upon Information Technology, the biggest challenge now is the way in which robots have started taking over many jobs previously meant for humans.

While the innovation of technology has greatly improved our day-to-day activities, it has also proven that we no longer need actual human beings to help with many of the jobs of today in the near future, thanks to robotics.

A robot is a machine programmable by a computer capable of carrying out complex actions automatically. According to the Britannica dictionary, a robot is any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner. By extension, robotics is the engineering discipline dealing with the design, construction, and operation of robots.

As the definitions above show, robots are here to replace humans in workplaces, markets, the army, etc. Though robots are still under development, the history of robots has its origins in the ancient world, during the industrial revolution, humans developed the structural engineering capability to control electricity so that machines could be powered with small motors.

Already, machines and robots have started replacing humans in many workplaces like banks, industries, markets, and media houses in Nigeria. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) gave banks the privilege to employ few tellers, while the internet allow them to have few customer care representatives. Nowadays, you don’t need a hardworking secretary to type your work when you can easily dictate to a computer what you wanted to write and get it printed.

Office workers in public and private institutions have already started feeling the heat. A job that 20 persons can handle in a week can be done by a robot in a day. Governments now give less priority to office workers and more priority to health and education sectors when it comes to employment and recruitment. But it is just a matter of time before this status quo changes because both the education and health sectors will soon start experiencing the tsunami of job loss.

In the near future, school doesn’t have to recruit many teachers when a single tutor from anywhere in the world can teach thousands of students online and have their exams and tests marked by a computer program or robot.

Health institutions will soon require the services of a few health workers, medical doctors, and consultants, since a patient can get a prescription for himself by talking to a robot or chatting with a consultant that renders online services, also surgeries can be performed by robots.

Security outfits will face massive job loss with the development of robot police and soldiers. A robot will be stronger, more loyal, more reliable, and more accurate than humans, in addition to it being a machine, as such, emotionless and immortal. One robot can fight thousands of humans on a war front. Already drones are now more preferred than having an air force officer flying a warplane to enemies’ camps.

Media houses like TV and Radio stations don’t need to employ OAPs, presenters, newscasters, and language translators in a few decades to come, because machines and computer programs can handle their jobs. News editors and program managers will simply work on program contents and news and upload them into a special computer program (robot) for presentation, translation, and subsequent casting on air.

Same case with employing sales girls and sales boys at retail stores, shops, and supermarkets. Who will bother to go shopping physically when people can easily order what they want to buy online and get it delivered to their doorstep? Cleaners, houseboys, office messengers, cooks, labourers will all cease to exist because of robots.

Other jobs that robots will take away from humans include, but are not limited to, telemarketing, automated shipping services, sewer management, tax preparers, photograph processing, data entry work, librarians and library technicians, etc.

But with all that I mentioned above, I’m not in any way trying to spell doom for the next generation of youth that will graduate from schools and start looking for jobs, in a few decades to come. As I have stated from the beginning, there’s a divergent view on the topic. Some people view robotics as a weapon to wipe out humans from industries, military, offices, workplaces, etc, while others view it as a great development that will better the lives of humans which is needed to be embraced by all.

For me, humans by nature, since time immemorial, have had survival instincts and no technological development was able to render people jobless. If a job is no longer in existence, humans will always find themselves a better alternative. When industrial machines came into being in the 19th century and replace millions of menial labourers, humans find a way to survive them, the same way robots will be integrated into our daily lives. By the way, it is the very humans that made the machines and the robots not the other way round.

Kabir Musa Ringim is HOD Computer Engineering, Binyaminu Usman Polytechnic, Hadejia, Jigawa State.