Robotic thinking trends

There is a lot of talk about robots at present. They’re made out to be rather villainous characters whose greatest desire is to rule the human race, annihilate earth and leave us mere mortals with no work whatsoever. The future looks bleak when I eavesdrop on the ongoing conversation in online spaces and on conference…

Future of Work
There is a lot of talk about robots at present. They’re made out to be rather villainous characters whose greatest desire is to rule the human race, annihilate earth and leave us mere mortals with no work whatsoever. The future looks bleak when I eavesdrop on the ongoing conversation in online spaces and on conference stages.

My husband and I recently spent two weeks road-tripping around Germany. It was a two week itinerary filled with “boys stuff” which this girl enjoyed more than she wants to admit. A highlight was spending a day immersed in all things Mercedes Benz. We started at the factory and before I knew it, I was smitten with their robots. I could’ve easily spent a year or more on that factory floor and not taken in all there was to learn. The robots that dominate the factory floor are towering characters with great strength who achieve a lot in any given day. They’re impressive, expensive and prized.

I got speaking to various people at the factory and asked about a few figures relating to number of robots used on the factory floor versus number of creatives employed within the company: approximately 15-20 years ago Mercedes Benz employed 2000-3000 creatives which consist of designers, usability experts and engineers. Today the company employs approximately 8000 people in this area of work. In the same timeframe, robots have replaced approximately 20 000 manual labour positions on the factory floor: we are talking about mundane work like drilling the same four bolts over and over and over again, all day long.

So let’s be honest: more creative work needs to be created to balance the current ratio of 1:4 (creative job created: factory floor job lost) but here’s the thing: the trajectory is what’s important. It’s on a steep increase upward when it comes to the number of creative skills required for a company like Mercedes Benz to remain competitive.
Trajectories in change are critical and are too seldom given the time they require to play out fully. A snap shot when it comes to any type of change is a dangerous place to be drawing conclusions from.

So in defence of robots and the future-of-work, I would like to propose that the conversation shift slightly and broaden to different areas. I think it’s all rather exciting that these magnificent robots are doing us the great service of removing our human involvement when it comes to the mundane.No human being, with a large beautiful mass of grey matter, should spend their days, numb and dumbed-down, doing repetitive work which leaves them tired, stifled, poor and unimaginative. This is a hard discussion to have because, as with any change, there are always casualties in the process. These will be taken into account but I want us to look at the trajectory, the various numbers and statistics, that indicate obvious growth in the area of creative skills and I want us to start considering that perhaps it’s time for the conversation to broaden into areas such as:
 
  1. How school curriculums don’t teach creativity beyond art

  2. How school curriculums include zero to negligent amounts of critical reasoning development within their frameworks

  3. How university and other third level institutions still have fewer numbers in their engineering and design faculties than in their management faculties when in fact the actual workforce requires the exact opposite: more engineers and less managers

  4. How creativity and critical reasoning are becoming the only factors that separate humans from robots

  5. How soon robots will be creative too due to artificial intelligence and if humans don’t foster their own superior creativity, we will have a very real problem 

  6. How the work that’s being replaced is work that should be replaced by robots 

  7. How the future-of-work should not be a discussion about what is, but rather what still needs to be created

 

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