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Robots bad! Robots good?

A report from the International Bar Association has suggested that artificial intelligence and robotics will ultimately upend traditional ways of working and will likely result in governments legislating for quotas of human workers. In turn, as a result, current legal frameworks regulating employment and safety will fast become outdated.

The 120-page report looks at how rapid technological change is likely to impact legal regulations and has been produced by the International Bar Association, a body of specialist employment lawyers.

The report looks at the impact of ‘Industry 4.0’ and, according to lead author, Gerlind Wisskirchen a German employment lawyer in Cologne: “What is new is the alacrity with which change is occurring, and the broadness of impact being brought about by AI and robotics.

“Jobs at all levels in society presently undertaken by humans are at risk of being reassigned to robots or AI. New labour and employment legislation will be urgently needed to keep pace with increased automation.”

The report goes on to suggest that governments will have to decide what jobs should be performed by humans while increased mechanical autonomy will, in turn, cause numerous problems such as how to best define legal responsibility for accidents involving new technology such as driverless cars.

Will it be the owner, the passengers, or manufacturers who pay the insurance and could the issues around liability prevent the introduction of fully automated driving promised by so many?

So the traditional workplace, if this report is to be believed, is disintegrating and in future may simply become a social forum in which colleagues network.

But hold on, despite those legitimate fears other new data reveals that the majority of industry professionals (63.3%) have never actually witnessed job losses as a result of the introduction of robots or automated processes. In fact, research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors – I’d never heard of them either – found that a third (36.7%) of those questioned said that the introduction of robots had actually resulted in job creation within their place of work.

Other key findings revealed that most professionals (72.6%) feel society is scare-mongered into believing robotics and automation are a negative progression, while 4 out of 5 manufacturers (78.9%) thought more should be done to promote the benefits of automation and robotics in the workplace.

Commenting on the research results, Steve Barraclough, CEO of the CIEHF, said: “Robots and automation are regularly given a bad name. However, whilst automation might remove some mundane and repetitive jobs, it also makes a significant contribution to 'upskilling' employees, which is often overlooked.”

Two reports and two very different findings but one thing is for certain, while ignoring the self interest of the authors of both reports, the march of AI and robotics is set to continue, whatever the outcome for the human element in the industrial revolution now unfolding around us.

Neil Tyler

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