I Get Excited and Depressed When I Read Stories Of Automation & Robots

I just read this article in The Guardian, titled “Robot factories could threaten jobs of millions of garment workers”

This is neither the first nor the last article to be published on this topic.

Also according to the article,the International Labor Organisation (ILO) has a report stating that up to 90% of workers in south-east Asia could face unemployment due to automation. So this is just one field. Now think about how automation will have repetitive jobs eliminated in all the different fields not just in developing countries but also in the developed world! It will be an unemployment nightmare because it is far difficult for people to update their skill sets in a short period of time to apply for new opportunities.

A simple Google Search with the words “Automation Job Loss” gives 1.3 million results. This already shows the volume of articles in this area.

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Sewbots are unlikely to appear in factories in Asia, the report says, but will be installed in destination markets like Europe and the US. It is such a big threat that the ILO urges Asean countries to start planning to diversify to “avoid considerable setbacks in development”.

I get excited when I read about automation because new tech is awesome and I get depressed because the transition for people to acquire new skills and be part of the workforce will be an increasingly difficult job.

Obviously this is not just a technology issue but a societal issue. So, factories will be coming back to the developed countries from these emerging markets but they don’t enhance employment opportunities in the developed markets in any significant way either.

Adidas announced a factory in Germany that will begin manufacturing shoes using robots in 2017. The “Speedfactory” will employ just 160 people: one robotic production line will make soles, the other production line the upper part of shoes. With an additional factory planned for the US, it is a scheme Adidas describe as a “gamechanger”.

Currently an Adidas shoe takes 18 months to produce from idea to shelf. The aim is to reduce this to five hours, with customers able to customise their order in stores.

There is a significant amount of experts who are pushing now to create some sort of “Basic Income” to counter this phenomenon. The idea of a “Basic Income” is that the state will providea minimum amount of money needed to survive to all it’s citizens so that it could provide financial security for people and at the same time help unleash their creative juices, get them to take more risks and be more entrepreneurial in their pursuits.

There is question and answer about how to tackle this automation in this specific context.

For the millions of people who stitch clothes and shoes for a living and who look set to be hardest hit by automation, could robots be an opportunity for fairer work?

“In a best case scenario, robots take on board the most repetitive, mundane and non-cognitive tasks of apparel manufacturing,” explains Chang. “Robots would also assume more of the dangerous and dirty tasks, like mixing of chemicals which can be hazardous to human workers. Ultimately, human workers would be able to perform more satisfying and rewarding, as well as higher-paid, jobs in the sector like programming robots for better production and design.”

I think this is more hope talking rather than reality. Because the transition to automation and building such factories will be lot quicker than making structural changes in the economy or for people to update their skills.

So, this again brings me to emphasise the importance of Frugal Innovations and creating quality, accessible, sustainable and affordable solutions.

So, as the quote goes “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Businesses and innovators in both public and private sector need to learn to create such solutions because people and organisations with lesser financial resources will demand such solutions.

Author: Venkata Gandikota

Venkata has more than 13 years of technical engineering, research, ideation, strategy and business modeling experience. Based on his experience with the Indian market and realizing also the need for affordable & sustainable solutions for Finland and other European markets, he started The Nordic Frugal Innovation Society in late 2013 with 2 colleagues. By organizing ideation workshops and 2 major conferences involving Cities, Universities, and businesses he started to mainstream the concept in Finland and the Nordics. Gandikota has also written several articles focusing on frugal innovations in the Finnish media. He has also been helping Finnish businesses in India as CEO of Indianeer Consulting and gives guest lectures at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä. He has a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering from India and a Masters in Environmental Engineering from USA.