Coronavirus: Will Covid-19 Accelerate the Use of Robots to Replace Human Workers?

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robot hand on a keyboard

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Getty Images

As a pandemic takes over the world, a person could be forgiven if they forgot another threat to the way of life for humanity – the rise of robots.

For better or worse, robots will replace many humans in their work, analysts say, and the coronavirus epidemic is speeding up the process.

“People generally say they want a human element in their interactions, but Covid-19 has changed that,” says Martin Ford, a futurist who has written about how robots will be integrated into the economy over the next few years. decades.

” [Covid-19] will change consumer preferences and open up new automation opportunities. “

Companies, large and small, are expanding their use of robots to increase social distance and reduce the number of employees who have to physically come to work. Robots are also used to play roles that workers cannot take on at home.

Walmart, the largest American retailer, uses robots to clean its floors.

Robots in South Korea have been used to measure temperatures and distribute hand sanitizer.

With health experts warning that some social distancing may need to be in place by 2021, robotic workers may be in greater demand.

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UVD-Robots

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UVD-Robots, which manufactures cleaning robots for hospitals, has received hundreds of new orders since the Covid-19 explosion


Bring the cleaning robots

Companies that manufacture cleaning and sanitation products have seen demand soar.

UVD Robots, the Danish manufacturer of ultraviolet disinfection robots, has shipped hundreds of its machines to hospitals in China and Europe.

Grocery stores and restaurants offering take-out food also use these machines.

Experts say the more businesses reopen, we can expect to see the adoption of this technology – you can see robots cleaning your schools or offices.

“Customers are now more concerned with their safety and the safety and health of workers,” said Blake Morgan, author of The Customer of the Future.

“Advances in automation can keep them all healthier and customers will reward companies that do. “

There are still limitations. Morgan says automated shopping at grocery stores should reduce human interaction, but because many systems don’t work well or break easily, customers avoid them and turn to human cashiers instead.

Aid for social distancing

Catering is another area where the use of robots is likely to increase due to health concerns.

Fast food chains like McDonald’s have tested robots as cooks and servers.

In warehouses, such as those operated by Amazon and Walmart, robots were already used to improve efficiency. The Covid-19 epidemic prompted the two companies to increase the use of robots for sorting, shipping and packaging.

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AFP

Legend

Amazon already uses thousands of these robots to transport products to its warehouses.


This can reduce the number of complaints from warehouse workers that they cannot socially distance themselves from their colleagues under current conditions. But according to tech experts, this would put some of them out of work.

Once a company has invested in replacing a worker with a robot, the company is unlikely to re-hire for that role. Robots are more expensive to create and integrate into businesses, but once operational, robots are generally less expensive than human workers.

Futurist Martin Ford says that using robots in the post-Covid-19 world also has marketing benefits.

“People will prefer to go to a place that has fewer workers and more machines because they think they can reduce the overall risk,” he explains.

AI as real as humans

What about service roles where a person is needed to deliver a lesson or instruction?

Artificial intelligence is under development and can replace school tutors, fitness coaches and financial advisers.

Large technology companies are developing the use of artificial intelligence. Facebook and Google both rely on AI to remove more inappropriate posts, because corporate human content moderators can’t review certain things from their homes.

The skeptical robots believed that humans would have an advantage in these jobs. That could change because the locks have made humans more comfortable with the idea of ​​connecting remotely. The instructor or on-screen advisor doesn’t have to be a real person, he just needs to think and act like that.

A 2017 report from global consultants McKinsey predicted that a third of workers in the United States would be replaced by automation and robots by 2030. But events like pandemics have the potential to change all time frames and experts say it’s really up to humans to decide how they want to integrate this technology into the world.

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