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Arestas do Brasil / Edges of Brazil

Working with robotics

Bruno Peron, 29 March 2017

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Is it true that robotics spoils the labour universe? There is a widespread fear that technological progress and industrial automation offer high risks of dissolution of job vacancies. For this reason, many critics have positioned against the use of robots and of certain technological resources in their labour activities due to fear of unemployment. However, I propose here a softer opinion about this topic with the objective of softening ominous concerns and uplifting the technological progress that has brought us so many benefits in these last decades.

Humanity is often slow to get into the rhythm of the technologies it itself invents, that is, by creating it and leaving it be. I hear from many people that WhatsApp has made their lives easier, including in the agility and communication for the purpose of business and work. Nevertheless, if we depended on telephone operators (which lost revenues with the massive use of this application) and on the Brazilian “Justice” (which blocked servers a few times), the service would be forbidden in Brazil. It is worrisome in this country that labour dinosaurs position their boards in the opposite direction of the wave. Taxi drivers, for example, being these the most paleolithic of them, make agreements with city governments to prohibit Uber services; civil servants conduct something similar with their frequent strikes to persuade government that they earn little and work too much, since they are either immune to the reality of the Brazilian market or they pretend not to understand our situation.

There is a wide debate on the effects of new technologies and the use of robots in the labour market. By the way, automation is nothing new in industries (including those in Brazil), as in the welding process applied to the assembly of trucks in Mercedes Benz factory in São Bernardo do Campo, state of São Paulo, Brazil. The presence of robotics has increased in diverse segments: robots use vacuum cleaners, drive vehicles, welcome visitors, do travellers’ check-in before a flight and receive payment in supermarkets. The resource of self-checkout in supermarkets in England is an example of how the conference of product barcodes and the completion of a purchase do without a human operator in cashier. Many of these examples, in fact, are not enough to characterise the use of robots but of some technological advancement with an impact on traditional labour relations to bring benefits to population. There is more relation with automation than artificial intelligence.

The English physicist Stephen Hawking (the one who talks about black holes and the expansion of the universe) is much worried about the implications of artificial intelligence for humanity. He is apprehensive that such scientific progress that aims at the creation of intelligent robots offers risk to life on Earth. Hawking believes that these robotised beings could subjugate the human species in a so-called conflict of interests, but this is a trace of his scientific fiction atheism. It is a fact that robots and machines have exerted many daily functions, some of them simple while others more complex. Not all are androids.

The opinion of specialists vary in that robots might one day substitute between 5% and 50% of the jobs. Certainly, robotics in the labour universe is a topic that is subject to an extensive and heated debate. There is need for people to adapt to changes, as taxi drivers should do in relation to Uber. The purpose should be aimed at guaranteeing the general welfare of population and the progress of science. I understand that automation and use of robots in labour activities conduct to a reorganisation of the sort and variety of professional activities that require the exclusive participation of human beings; so there are alternative demands of functions in the job market. Therefore, these processes do not offer any risk to the labour universe; what it does is to signal adaptations. It is beneficial that humanity labours with robotics, instead of resisting to changes and progresses.