Robots Replace Workers?

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Since the first robotics patent was obtained in 1961 by George Devol, American industry has been slowly transformed. Now, many modern assembly lines are as much robotic as they are manned by humans, and robots are not just seen in movies, thus proving one irrefutable fact:

Robots are everywhere.

Are they a good thing or a bad thing, for American workers?

A recent article by NBC News, Nine jobs that humans may lose to robots, points out that robots can replace people in many industries. We already know that uses for robots range from the deadly serious – drones that drop bombs, for example – to cute little robots that can clean our floors.

Robots also have reduced the recovery time in many surgeries, and are especially useful in hysterectomies, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune.

Google recently bought a company called Boston Dynamics, and with it got robots called Big Dog, Cheetah, Wildcat and Atlas. The robots are capable of running around on rough terrain at very high speeds, according to this article in the New York Times: Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots.

Google wants to explore the abilities of robots to do things, according to the article. Google wouldn’t say what it paid for the company.

Boston Dynamics has been around since 1992. It has done some work for the Pentagon. The founder, Marc Raibert, denies he is trying to use his robots for war.

“The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

The Boston Dynamics robots are amazing. “Cheetah” for example, can run up to 29 miles per hour. A video of one of the robots, “BigDog” has been seen more than 15 million times since 2008. It is described as “…a noisy, gas-powered, four-legged, walking robot that climbs hills, travels through snow, skitters precariously on ice…”

A four-legged robot named Wildcat stars in a more recent video, running around a parking lot.

Boston Dynamics claims that its robots could be used for disaster relief, for example in Japan during the recent nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. In a recent competition, Darpa Robotics Challenge, the company spent 10.8 million dollars to show what it can do.

Although this may seem ominous for American workers, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Robots have to be serviced, just like any other machine.

Also, robots are incapable of reasoning or emotions. They cannot feel what humans feel.

The idea that more robots will be a bad thing is being challenged.

Last year, there was an Op-Ed piece by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times called I Made the Robot Do It. Friedman, after visiting Rethink Robotics in Boston, is pro-robot:

And therein lie the seeds of a potential revolution. Rethink’s goal is simple: that its cheap, easy-to-use, safe robot will be to industrial robots what the personal computer was to the mainframe computer, or the iPhone was to the traditional phone. That is, it will bring robots to the small business and even home and enable people to write apps for them the way they do with PCs and iPhones — to make your robot conduct an orchestra, clean the house or, most important, do multiple tasks for small manufacturers, who could not afford big traditional robots, thus speeding innovation and enabling more manufacturing in America.

Rodney Brooks, the Australian MIT designer behind iRobot:

The minute you say ‘robots’ people say: ‘It’s going to take away jobs. But that is not true. It doesn’t take away jobs. It will change how you do them,” the way the PC did not get rid of secretaries but changed what they did.

Robots will undoubtedly continue to take over many functions in our world, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily replace humans.

If you or someone you know thinks they have suffered an injury while on the job, Nate Hansford can help. Contact Nate by phone at 770-922-3660.

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