One response to “The tension between technological innovation and inclusive industrialization”

  1. Victoria Buckingham

    This article raises lots of interesting arguments. But I think they are wrong to pay any credence to the prediction that “increasingly [it will] be the case that human labour almost exclusively exists to complement robots and machines.”

    Evidence published in 2015 by Guy Michaels and Georg Graetz suggests that, while productivity increases with robotic innovation and some semi-skilled and lower skilled jobs are abandoned, “there is some evidence of diminishing marginal returns to robot use – ‘congestion effects’ – so they are not a panacea for growth.”

    The fact is that tasks that robots do remain limited. For more complex tasks, robots have to be minded by humans lest they break down or miscalculate precision movements, which reduces their potential contribution to productivity enhancement. Mercedes-Benz, for example, has now begun replacing its robots with humans as they are more flexible.

    Indeed, part of the reason for the limitation of robots in advanced technical processes is their lack of flexibility. Sabine Pfeiffer’s study of German automotive factories (‘Robots, Industry 4.0 and Humans, or Why Assembly Work Is More than Routine Work’) last year found that instead of providing a panacea for productivity enhancement, the use of robots meant that humans performed extra work which involved constant monitoring of the robots. “During a normal and otherwise smooth shift, a worker responsible for the ballet of eight welding and handling robots intervenes 20 to 30 times per shift – not because of technical incidents but in order to prevent them. Although human work declined quantitatively over the years, its qualitative role increased with automation”.

    The truth is that robots will only ever exist to complement humans.

    Berlin, Germany