1.4 Augmented Worker vs. Robots
THE AUGMENTED WORKER BOOSTS WORKER PERFORMANCE BEYOND PROCESS AUTOMATION AND ROBOTIZATION
One approach to increase the productivity of a process is obviously full or partial process automation. The manufacturing industry makes extensive use of this method to effectively reduce production costs. From textile looms to automated assembly lines to intelligent cobots, industrials have for centuries found ways to reproduce human work on a large scale.
Fortunately, the use of machines is not limited to automation. More often, new technologies work alongside humans to enable them to work more efficiently, safely and more accurately. This process of improving human workers is an Augmentation. Experience shows that often the best solutions are those that amplify the capabilities of workers rather than replace them.
In May 2017, Elon Musk had promised to create the most robotized automotive plant in the world (Frémont plant in California) allowing mass production of his Model 3. To meet this challenge, Tesla has invested more than $200 million in the site by installing automated production systems. According to the Wall Street Journal, 1,028 robots have been installed at Frémont to move parts and components. To this number must be added the robots at the Gigafactory in Nevada where the batteries are assembled.
Despite the pace of 5,000 Model 3s produced per week, Tesla’s founder acknowledged on Twitter that “Tesla’s excessive automation was a mistake, [his] mistake”. Indeed, he admitted that robotization was “expensive and inversely correlated with quality”. Even detailing the problems he found: “The robots don’t detect loose threads, misfitting bolts, misaligned fasteners or faulty joints. Humans are really good at this”
The development of Artificial Intelligence makes the automation of many previously protected professions more and more credible. Digitalization brings gains in all economic sectors and the transformation of almost all professions is underway. It is the unprecedented proliferation of technology that makes this digitalization possible, bringing new solutions to problems of productivity or reliability hitherto beyond the reach of robotics and automation.
THE AUGMENTED WORKER PAVES THE WAY FOR THE EMERGENCE OF NEW JOBS
In this context, every day, newspapers publish articles predicting the disappearance of many professions and imagining a world in which robots put humans on technological unemployment.
However, when we analyze the reference studies on the subject of automation and AI, we see that they all estimate between 10 and 20% of the number of jobs threatened with disappearance by complete automation. This is obviously a significant proportion of jobs, but this does not bode well for the disappearance of human work. An overwhelming majority of jobs will require combining the efficiency of human intelligence with the power of AI and robots. Other jobs will emerge. The advent of information technology, which, it was already said at the time, was supposed to destroy all jobs, has created hundreds of millions of jobs and generated today’s largest capitalizations. Employees are going to become Augmented Workers so that the companies employing them remain competitive, implying a new division of labour between men and machines.