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What will the rise of intelligent, connected machines mean for the human element in work?

Last week, the BBC took a look at the impact intelligent machinery, or robots, is having and could have on the way in which people work and reported on what jobs were most likely to be affected.

Intelligent machinery has been employed across a huge swathe of industry, but what is new is the growing variety of industries and occupations that are seeing the spread of such intelligence.

From teaching and nursing to the use of intelligent software in the legal profession, even to writing news stories, technology is replacing the human element. What was once discussed primarily in theoretical terms is no longer an academic debate, but a growing reality for many businesses.

Across the board, technology is encroaching on traditional forms of work and it raises the question as to what people will end up doing when their jobs are performed better by a machine.

Research earlier this year from the Boston Consulting Group suggested that, by 2025, smart software or robots could replace up to 25% of all jobs, while a study from Oxford University suggested that around 35% of jobs in the UK could be at risk from automation.

Certainly the nature of work is changing and the more qualified and skilled an employee, the more likely it is that they will find work by reskilling into a different job.

A case in point is the rise of Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet of Things. The smart factory and the use of more intelligence and networked processes is expected to give rise to significant improvements in manufacturing productivity, flexibility and profitability.

But will that necessarily mean a loss of jobs?

AWS Electronics Group, a specialist electronics manufacturing services provider, has invested heavily in new process preparation software which has increased its new product introduction (NPI) capacity and reduced its time-to-market for new customer projects significantly. According to the company, the software is generating far more accurate machine programs, assembly documentation and test and inspection operations, as well as far more accurate reporting.

Group technical director Robert Lackey said: “This software is enabling us to be 45 to 50% more efficient when it comes to bringing a new product to production.”

Rather than impacting on jobs, the company has been able to take on more staff.

“This type of investment has enabled us to stay ahead of our competition, provide better customer value and recruit additional staff,” explains CEO Paul Deehan. “We handled 900 NPI programmes last year and that reflected orders from new strategic global customers won from traditional low cost locations, such as China, Malaysia and Korea."

Economists often talk of it being unwise to equate the fact that something ‘could’ be done with the fact that it ‘will’ be done. Innovation tends to be adopted by only a few companies who are able to implement changes to achieve higher levels of productivity and, while it is likely that greater automation and intelligence will have a significant impact, it remains unclear what type and number of jobs will be most affected by these changes.

The rise of more intelligent machinery will undoubtedly call for a new breed of manufacturing engineers, computer and IT specialists, but there will always be a need for people showing ‘creativity, social intelligence and manual dexterity’.

Neil Tyler

Source:  www.newelectronics.co.uk

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