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Wednesday 8th December 2021

Automation – are the robots taking over?

The elephant sits in the room, smugly observing the issue of automation – the process of taking jobs from humans and giving them to robots –  while torrents of working class people seem oblivious, insisting instead on blaming Polish immigrants for their diminishing employment prospects.

Immigration was one of the key issues leading up to the Brexit victory last year. It’s very clear – “the immigrants are coming here, they’re living on our benefits, and they’re taking our jobs,” people said.

Automation seems very convenient to people who aren’t in this position themselves. Why wait for half an hour in a queue to make idle small talk with a human cashier as he slowly scans your fruit, veg, and fags, when you can do it yourself with a lovely automated checkout in half the time?

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You may, or may not be familiar with Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came”, but it seems to be becoming more and more relevant in today’s increasingly dystopian looking society.

It’s not just supermarkets that are slowly cracking down on their human employees. Meet SAM. No, SAM isn’t a person, he’s a robot. SAM stands for ‘Semi Automated Mason’, and he can lay an average of 3000 bricks a day- 6 times the amount of a human bricklayer.

The best thing about SAM? No need for tea breaks. He won’t ask for holidays, sick pay, or seek union representation. To a profit hungry corporation, he’s the model employee.

Maybe I’m overreacting. There are certain jobs that are safe, aren’t there? Professional jobs. Like teaching, journalism, and research, right? Wrong. Some classrooms in Japan and Korea are already rolling out robots to teach English to students.

On top of this, some university professors are now utilising software to reach more students, so there’s less of a need for as many teachers. Sure, a lot of people would prefer more contact time when they’re forking out for an expensive degree, but this is what happens when you put profit before people.

The safest jobs are those that are deemed to require the highest skills of creativity and social intelligence – something that computers struggle to replicate.

Would you want a computer to be your surgeon, design your living room in a unique way, or be your first call of contact in an emergency?

Until computers can convincingly pass the Turing test, some jobs seem to be safe. However, I think that it’s safe to say that this technology should be properly regulated- international treaties should be signed to prevent it from being further abused.

 

Maddy Sutherland

Maddy is a freelance illustrator who lives in Glasgow. She's recently graduated and is working hard to make ends meet. Self-employed? Read Maddy's experiences here.

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