It's been predicted that a third of US workers are likely to be replaced by robots and automation by 2030. But an event such as a pandemic has the ability to speed up the timeline. It's up to us to decide how we want to integrate this technology during these trying times.
Pre-coronavirus, businesses have already started using robots to perform tasks more efficiently. However, social distancing guidelines have forced many companies to reduce their workforce. This prompted the use of automation to perform certain tasks, particularly those that cannot be done at home.
"People usually say they want a human element to their interactions, but COVID-19 has changed that," says Martin Ford, a futurist who has written about the ways robots will be integrated into the economy in the coming decades.
These days, tech companies are doubling their efforts in developing artificial intelligence (AI) that can replace financial advisers, fitness trainers, and school tutors. Both Google and Facebook are using AI to manage its content policies as human content moderators lack the tools to remove inappropriate posts from home.
The use of automation is also widespread in fast-food chains and warehouses. McDonald's, for one, has been testing robots as servers and cooks. Restaurants and groceries offering takeaway are using robotic machines more as well.
Walmart and Amazon were already using robots before the pandemic to improve efficiency. Now, both companies are looking to expand the use of robots for sorting, packing, and shipping.
While this will significantly improve both companies' workflow, it would, unfortunately, put some of their workers out of work. Initially, creating and integrating robots into businesses is an expensive endeavor, but once they're up and running and proven more efficient than a human worker, it's unlikely that a company will ever seek out a human again for that role.
Sanitization and cleaning companies have also been integrating automation into their products more than before. UVD Robots, makers of the now popular UV light sanitizing robots, has delivered hundreds of its products to hospitals in Europe and China.
For the moment, there appears to be no end in sight for COVID-19, but once businesses start operating again, we can expect to see further integration of this technology.
It goes without saying that the future will be most likely filled with robots doing jobs once performed by humans, but the pandemic is changing the timeline. With health organizations believing social distancing guidelines may extend through 2021, a massive AI takeover seems inevitable.