Should Robots and Machines Take Over the Workplace?

Group 9

From supermarket self-checkouts to manufacturing, automation has become extremely common in recent years. The use of automation in place of human workers has countless benefits across a wide range of industries. However, there is an equal number of drawbacks that must be taken into consideration before deciding to embrace automation. The ethics of replacing workers with machines and robotics will be discussed in this article. We are for replacing workers with robots and machines.

Advantages

The greatest issue with automation in industry is the loss of jobs. This relies on the preconception that automation is going to replace jobs rather than supplement them. In the medical industry it is unlikely much of the workforce can be replaced by automation, but there are significant advantages to supplementing nurses and doctors’ workloads. A statement from Enola Labs Software highlights the benefits of using automation to free up doctors’ time by “checking in with patients, increasing medication compliance, and compliance to post op care plans” [1]. This allows doctors to spend more time with patients suffering from more serious conditions that require greater attention.

This idea can be replicated in the industrial/manufacturing environment by repurposing workers to assist automated machinery rather than the other way around. In this situation the mundane/repetitive elements of blue-collar jobs can be eliminated, and the workers can undergo training to begin maintaining and supervising the machinery.

In a capitalist economic system trade and industry are owned and controlled by private individuals.[2] This means that the financial responsibility of the company lies with the owner, who is required to source investment to setup the company and run it effectively. These costs include startup capital, permits and licenses, office space and utilities, equipment and maintenance, employees and employee benefits, insurance, professional services and many more.[3] The burden of this falls on the owners’ shoulders and therefore it is in their interests to reduce these costs in any way that does not infringe labor rights such as wage limits and workplace conditions.[4]

Robots and automated machines are more accurate than human workers which results in a decreased amount of wasted materials. Reduced wastes improve profit margins and reduces the impact to the environment.

Due to the automation of the manufacturing industry many factories were able to remain open during Covid-19 due to the limited number of workers on the floor and the machinery can be controlled remotely reducing the risk of infection and contributing to maintain the stability of the economy.

In many cases jobs are created due to automation. Many jobs are creating in the computer science and engineering industry required to design code and maintain robots and automated machines.

Disadvantages

The most significant drawback of increased automation would be the redundancy of human workers which would likely lead to high unemployment [1]. The fact that almost all of the workers that would be replaced are likely to be low skilled and have a limited education means that they will encounter difficulties when attempting to enter another career path in a different industry. Mass unemployment can have a detrimental impact on the economy and society as a whole.

As more processes become automated they will become increasingly more complex, involving a multitude of robotics and complicated programming. Such a high reliance on advanced technology creates problems. An example of such a problem is if part of the system fails, if a machine breaks down or if the programming is not compatible with a new design. These situations will often require a highly skilled professional to find a solution. As more companies embrace automation more of these specialists will be required in order to maintain the systems. Due to the complexity of the tasks and the time needed in order to train an individual, the specialists that are needed will be in short supply, causing delays when a failure cannot be fixed.

An increased use of robotics and computers will also increase the demand electrical power [6], as well as precious materials. Dependant on the capacity of sustainable energy sources, this could lead to a significant increase in CO2 emissions and shortages of precious materials.

Embracing automated manufacturing technologies will increase production, giving the company an advantage over those that still rely on human workers. However, once the majority of existing companies turn to automation, it will become incredibly difficult for new companies to enter the market due to the high cost of an automated workforce and not being able to sufficiently compete with their lower budget human workforce against large companies with plenty of existing capital. This would reduce market competition and allow an individual company to gain a monopoly of a product more easily, as well as limiting possible innovation that is often associated with a competitive market.

An issue that is often not taken seriously is the possibility of rogue AI. If advanced automation takes hold and progresses even further into how society runs, which will most likely be the case, more capable computer systems will be created which will eventually require them to be fully conscious. If such a scenario were to happen, having the entire production system operated by the same computers would not be ideal.

References

[1]          Medical Technology, “Will automation take over healthcare jobs? Industry experts share their opinion – Medical Technology | Issue 7 | May 2018,” medical-technology.nridigital.com. https://medical-technology.nridigital.com/medical_technology_may18/will_automation_take_over_healthcare_jobs_industry_experts_share_their_opinion (accessed Mar. 24, 2021).

[2]          J. Chappelow, “Capitalism,” Investopedia, Apr. 06, 2020. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/capitalism.asp.

[3]          K. Ready, Startup: An Insider’s Guide to Launching and Running a Business. Apress, 2012.

[4]          GOV.UK, “Contracts of employment and working hours – GOV.UK,” Www.gov.uk, 2019. https://www.gov.uk/browse/employing-people/contracts.

[5] K. P. Dario Cords, “Technological Unemployment Revisited: Automation in a Search and Matching Framework,” Stuttgart, Germany 2018

[6] L. Wright, “If robots take our jobs, what will it mean for climate change?,” The Conversationj 2009.

1 thought on “Should Robots and Machines Take Over the Workplace?

  1. Opening statement. The problem is clearly stated. There is a clear dilemma.
    Your article started very well, but as with some other arguments, what you’ve done is present good cases for and against BUT you haven’t used any ethical theories to support these arguments! This WILL lose you marks, so make development of the ethical support a priority for Assignment Two!

    Arguments for: No use of ethical theories. Focus on improving this for Assignment Two.
    For example, you discuss medical workers. One of the issues many of us have experienced during lockdown is isolation. Training medical workers to focus more on the social care they can provide by having the time to talk with their patients has strong utilitarian support – it’s the action that results in the greatest happiness.

    Arguments against: No use of ethical theories. Focus on improving this for Assignment Two. Again, there is a utilitarian argument against as taking an action that results in widespread unemployment isn’t an action that leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number!
    Look at the other theories too! Virtue ethics can support the case for.

    Advice for Assignment Two:
    Your priority is to develop your ethical support. You will lose marks if it’s not there!
    You should be able to identify the stakeholders and the Options for action.

    Try and drum up more comments. I’m perfectly OK with you striking deals – whereby you comment on other articles and they comment on yours.

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