Coronavirus: Will Covid-19 speed up the use of robots to replace human workers?
As a pandemic seizes the world, a person could be forgiven if he forgot about another threat to humanity’s way of life: 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 usually say they want a human element in their interactions, but Covid-19 has changed it,” says Martin Ford, a futurist who wrote about ways robots will be integrated into the economy in the coming decades.
“[Covid-19] it will change consumer preferences and really open up new opportunities for automation. “
Large and small companies are expanding the way they use robots to increase social distances and reduce the number of employees who need to physically get to work. Robots are also used to perform roles that workers cannot play at home.
Walmart, America’s largest retailer, is using robots to clean its floors.
Robots in South Korea have been used to measure temperatures and distribute hand sanitizer.
With health experts warning that social removal measures may be needed by 2021, robot workers may be in greater demand.
Insert the robot vacuum cleaners
Companies that manufacture cleaning and sanitizing products have seen demand rise.
UVD robots, the Danish production of ultraviolet light disinfection robots, have shipped hundreds of machines to hospitals in China and Europe.
Groceries and restaurants that offer takeaway also use these machines more.
Experts say that with the reopening of multiple companies, we can expect further adoption of this technology: you may see robots cleaning your schools or offices.
“Customers are now more concerned about their safety and workers’ health and safety,” says Blake Morgan, author of The Customer of the Future.
“Advances in automation can make them all healthier and customers will reward companies that do.”
There are still limitations. Morgan points out that automatic checkouts in groceries should reduce human interactions, but because many systems don’t work well or break easily, customers avoid them and instead go to human cashiers.
Help with social distances
The restaurant service is another area where the use of robots is likely to increase due to health problems.
Fast food chains like McDonald’s have tested robots like cooks and servers.
In warehouses, such as those operated by Amazon and Walmart, robots were already used to improve efficiency. The Covid-19 epidemic has both companies wishing to increase the use of robots for sorting, shipping and packing.
This can reduce the number of complaints from warehouse workers who claim they cannot reach social distance from their colleagues under current conditions. But, according to tech experts, it would put some of them out of action.
Once a company has invested in replacing a worker with a robot, it is unlikely that the company will ever fill that role. Robots are more expensive to build and integrate into companies, but once they are up and running, robots are typically cheaper than human workers.
According to futurist Martin Ford, the use of robots in the post-Covid-19 world also has some marketing advantages.
“People will prefer to go to a place with fewer workers and more machines because they feel they can reduce the overall risk,” he explains
AI which is as real as humans
What about the service roles in which a person is needed to offer a lesson or guideline?
Artificial intelligence is being developed which can replace school tutors, fitness instructors and financial advisors.
Big tech companies are expanding the use of artificial intelligence. Both Facebook and Google rely on artificial intelligence to remove more inappropriate posts as corporate human content moderators cannot review certain things from home.
Robot skeptics had believed that humans would have an edge in those jobs. This could change as the blockages made humans more comfortable with the idea of connecting remotely. The on-screen instructor or consultant doesn’t necessarily have to be a real person, they just have to think and behave as such.
A 2017 report by global consultants McKinsey predicted that one third of workers in the United States would be replaced by automation and robots by 2030. But events such as pandemics have the potential to change all timescales and experts say it really is up to the humans decide how they want to integrate this technology into the world.