Complex disciplines, like mechanical engineering, are safe from robot workers, for now.
There have been some worrying headlines recently that warn us of the rise of robot workers and that millions of jobs will be lost to automation and non-human operators over the coming years. While much of these could be written off as scare stories, it does seem that as robot workers become more sophisticated, we can expect them to take over some of the roles that have been carried out by people.
This brings us to the engineering industry. Clearly given that this is an area where robot workers are being designed and created, could engineers build robots that will eventually take their jobs? Here we look at the likelihood of engineering jobs being automated and how this could affect the engineering industry.
Some Job Automation is Inevitable
Yes, it’s true that robots look set to take over a large number of jobs in the near future. We have already seen technological innovations begin to slip into our daily lives in the form of things like automated checkouts at supermarkets, and it won’t be long before there are self-driving cars on the roads.
There are effectively two ways of looking at this. One, increasingly sophisticated robots will begin taking over more and more jobs leaving no work for humans; or two, as robots take over certain jobs, there will be new demand for different roles. The latter is especially true in the engineering industry, where some manual tasks have been taken over by robots, creating a greater need for human quality control, supervision, and programming.
Skilled Jobs Are Typically the Most Protected
From an engineering perspective, it’s highly skilled nature makes the discipline most resilient from being replaced by machines. While robot workers are very good at certain things, they are still far behind human in regard to others; creative thought, problem-solving, and situational analysis are still very much the domain of humans.
Roles such as mechanical engineer are considered to some of the least likely to be taken over by machines in the foreseeable future.
Robots Are Already Widely Used Without Issue
Some have argued that it’s dangerous to be entrusted roles to machines that were previously considered to be the domain of humans. But it’s a stretch to suggest that robots are always less capable of tasks than humans—in many cases, their abilities are invaluable.
Take the concept of a fire sprinkler. Rather than requiring human intervention to establish the presence of a fire in a room, modern fire sprinkler systems use heat sensitive metal to detect fires and set off alarms and sprinklers. This is taking away human responsibility and giving it to a machine, and yet this is not considered to be a bad thing.
And there are millions of similar examples where human control is not a required factor. So why should we be worried about more sophisticated robots taking over jobs? It’s in our very recent past that the only way to grow crops was to have hundreds of human workers ploughing land and scattering seed. Now we can use crop spreading machines and tractors to make the process much easier, providing human farmers with the time to do other work.
Are Robotics Engineers Building Their Replacements?
This brings us to another question: will robots become so sophisticated that they can take over engineering jobs? While this notion can’t be discredited, we are still a long way from being in a position where machines have the kind of intelligence to be able to deal with issues as complex and broad ranging as engineering.
Despite the leaps and bounds of artificial intelligence, robots are still functionally the product of what can be programmed into them. So for the moment, there is no prospect that robots will take engineering roles.
The Robot Revolution Will Create Jobs
It’s also important to note that so much of the media coverage of robot workers implies that all human jobs will disappear. But this is a missed belief about the role of changing technology on the workforce—the rise of automation is nothing new. When the printing press was invented, it put thousands of scribes out of business. But the world adapted.
More robot workers in certain industries will simply create new roles elsewhere. We should not fear robots, but rather embrace when they can do for us.