Increasingly efficient, robots intrigue as much as they worry. Drones, autonomous vehicles, humanoids… Whatever they are, their dazzling progress excites some people who see in them a way to improve productivity while controlling costs. Others, more reticent in the face of the hitherto unknown power of artificial intelligence, warn of the risk of layoffs and mass unemployment.
In recent years, robots have arrived en masse on our beautiful blue planet. Artificial intelligence makes them more and more powerful, sometimes almost in spite of us. It is difficult to compete when we know that our memory remains fallible whereas theirs, whose limits are not yet known, can be saved on a hard disk. Able to work without breaks and not claiming paid vacations, robots have the advantage, not negligible in times of crisis, of a better productivity and a controlled cost. At the dawn of a technological mutation, where everything is becoming automated, some people are wondering about the impact on employment. Designed by humans, could robots not ultimately replace them and be the cause of economic layoffs? According to researchers, there are only forty-five years left before machines replace us.
Robots, versatile machines
The notion of “robots” encompasses several typologies with distinct functions. Their main commonality is, without doubt, the use of artificial intelligence. The first types of robots to have been conceived and which are still the most produced today are industrial ones. They are mainly found on assembly lines, especially in the automotive industry. Used to manufacture a large number of products, they can be packaging, cleaning, demolition or surveillance robots. Related to these are robots from the medical field. These robots often take the form of mechanical arms, such as those operated by surgeons to reproduce gestures in real time during operations. More popular in recent years, the so-called domestic robots perform multiple functional and practical tasks. Apart from robot vacuum cleaners, they can also be used to entertain us. Among them, robot dogs, for example, can play with children. Used for surveillance in the air or in the sea, other types of robots are used in the military sector such as the famous drones, some of which are intended for entertainment. The so-called exploratory robots, on the other hand, are used to replace humans in certain situations, more or less dangerous or inaccessible, such as space exploration.
From humanoids to androids, there is only one step
Endowed with characteristics of human behavior or morphology, anthropomorphic or “humanoid” robots (which literally means “resembling humans”, editor’s note) are, without a doubt, the most fascinating. Simply put, their general appearance is reminiscent of a human being. These robots, often equipped with bipedalism, are sometimes only a part of the body. Specialized to replace us in a precise and repetitive task, they are able to do what only a human could do, before their appearance in our society. But technological innovations go further. There are now what we call androids. Beyond the fact that the general appearance is similar to that of a human being, they designate what is human-shaped or which, ethologically, “resembles a Man”. As you can see, thanks to artificial intelligence, robots are getting closer and closer to humans, taking on their appearance and, sometimes, their position. Some people have come to estimate the consequences that these innovations could have in the long term. Unsurprisingly, one of the main issues is the question of employment.
Is technological change a danger for employment?
The rise of robots tends to generate a movement of massive automation of work. We talk about technological mutation. If the goal remains that robots serve productivity and the economy, and that they facilitate the life of their users, some wonder whether robots are the future of Man or a threat to employment. Opinions are divided. It is true that these technical advances are eliminating certain low value-added jobs, which are common in the computer field, in favor of new ones that require more specific skills and qualifications. But, in the industrial sector in particular, the automation of tasks could well, according to some experts, lead to economic redundancies (or to changes in employment contracts) and, in fact, to mass unemployment. The countdown is on, according to some prognoses: robots will be able to replace language translators by 2024, write a more or less good essay by 2026, take over the role of salesmen by 2030 and, by 2061, surpass humans for any task… He who lives, will see.
Artificial intelligences, a possible danger
Recently, the billionaire Elon Musk expressed his fear towards artificial intelligences (AI). According to him, the evolution of these technologies could trigger the third world war. He explains the danger of AIs thanks to their decision-making without any human intervention. For the moment, the involvement of these “machines” is still very limited, but Elon Musk evokes the fact that an AI with decision-making power could become a weapon of mass destruction. Mobilized by the States and the army, the robots would take over like in Terminator… No longer immune to innovation, non-profit organizations are multiplying to warn of a potential danger. This is the role of the Future of Life Institute, receiving donations from the most important leaders to try to preserve the ethics of the evolution of these machines.