Eugene Kovalenko is the chief commercial officer of Rozum Robotics, the company behind the first robot cafe in the UAE.
When it comes to impact on the labour market, automation is something of a controversy. While some people are in awe of the opportunities robots create, others are not too thrilled. The attitude is understandable: the fear of AI taking away jobs has been lingering in the air for quite a while.
The newest survey by the American CNBC shows that 37 per cent of young workers feel threatened by robots. Industries like retail, logistics, automotive, are the most anxious about upcoming automation.
The figures look a bit grim. However, the worries that robots are coming for us are overhyped, and the majority of the working population seem to be embracing the change. The very same survey came to an optimistic view on the AI future: nearly half of the workers (48 per cent) said that they believed in the importance of developing AI solutions, and only 23 per cent dubbed them as “dangerous”.
Knowing the attitude is good. Yet all the figures above do not reflect the labour market situation. They reveal employees’ emotions, and emotions are a bad soothsayer to forecast the future, especially one of human workers—which has always been volatile.
The irony is that not many people realise how many jobs have disappeared over time. For instance, there was once the job of a pinsetter, the person who manually removed and replaced bowling pins. It was a typical gig for young boys wishing to make a little extra cash. Today, when everything is automated, the idea of someone pulling out bowling pins right in front of you doesn’t even cross anyone’s mind. Do we blame technology for taking away these jobs? Not really.
Mankind has always had a hard time with innovation. Every industrial revolution went hand in hand with criticism and fear. But it’s impossible to deny that all of them eventually made our lives simpler and safer. Life-threatening occupations are becoming less dangerous thanks to robotic assistants helping us fight fires, inspect pipelines, and weld.
Welding is something few people dream about. Youngsters are not after it. As per the research, the US only will face a shortage of about 400 000 welders by 2024. Welding robots are perfect in terms of the so-called 3D essence: they can work in a dark, dirty, and dull environment. They are always doing great. The amount of faulty goods is close to the minimum, and workers are not endangered.
Automated jobs also made room for new career paths. The very building of robots created workplaces all over the world—and even helped professionals from declining industries feel sought after.
For instance, in the Commonwealth Independent States, there has been a decline in many engineer-related industries. With factories shutting down, many skilled workers remained in the dark—until robotic companies came into the picture. The team behind an automated coffee point Rozum Café, Rozum Robotics’ flagship product, is an example of it.
Robots consist of both hardware and software components. If you are not able to control the robot, it’s just a bucket of nuts and bolts. If hardware is not available, then the software has nothing to run. For that reason, we connect specialists from the IT industry (software developers, QA engineers) with hardware guys (engineers, electricians, integration specialists). Many developers feel drawn to the project by the fact that it’s not mere coding: you can see a real object to run, which is a rare thing for common software companies. At the same time, hardware pros, whose skills do not receive much spotlight in the digital age, find a new way to shine.
Rozum Café created jobs—however, it also automates one as well—namely the job of a barista.
Coffee making is a repetitive process. However, you may have noticed that the taste of your favourite coffee varies from cup to cup: even the best baristas can make mistakes, especially if they’re tired. In the case of Rozum Café, tiredness no longer plays a part. The robot barista prepares coffee step-by-step, just like a human. It is not a vending machine: the robot uses professional coffee equipment to whip up a latte or any other beverage. Coffee is made in a conventional way but with an innovative touch.
However, even the robotic barista is not going to eliminate all its human counterparts. Places with a great atmosphere are going to survive.
Sometimes it is more than just a cup of coffee in the morning. We go to coffee points and restaurants for the atmosphere or to have a chat with baristas there. Places that can provide both drinks and experience will remain. In this context, Rozum Café is just a way for you to get a specialty drink quickly when you are not in the mood for small talk.
Automation of mundane jobs will help us focus on developing our creative side, as well as on emotions.
All the regular repetitive and dull jobs currently being executed by humans will be partially or fully replaced by robotic solutions. The things that exploit human-specific traits such as imagination and emotional intellect will become people’s domain.
Is automation unavoidable? For sure. The labour market will have to embrace the changes to come… as it has always done.
We do not have time to prepare ourselves for the newest industrial revolution, we already live in it. The best thing to do at this time is to find your balance. Do not stress over robots or write humans off: with new tools, come new jobs and new skills.