Although, the 1920 Karel Capek’s play titled R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robot) brought robotics to the front burner, series of other development preceding that year contributed immensely to the invention and popularity of Robots. Such development dates back to 1023-957 BC when a Chinese inventor, Yan Shi allegedly presented a mechanical handiwork in the human-shaped figure to the king.
Robotics is the creation of robots and its concomitant operations meant to replace humans in various sectors of the economy. Its relevance is fast gaining acceptance in the society as robots have been found to perform tasks humans never dreamt of achieving. Nevertheless, are there drawbacks on robotics becoming a reality?
Recently, Bel Geddes’ vision of humans exiting the driving process as captured in a 1940 book titled ‘Magic Motorway’ has become a reality. The reality came when California made known her intention to introduce the first commercial driverless delivery service that will kick-start early this year. The intention was made known to the public few months after driverless taxis began on October 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, as part of Google’s Waymo service. While countries like China has since 2013 embraced the world of robots with the invention of the autonomous vehicle, rebranded as Baidu Apollo in April 2017. At the end of 2019, Baidu Apollo had filed more than 1,800 patents for autonomous driving technologies in China. Also, McKinsey research suggests autonomous vehicles could, at some point, take over most of the automotive market in China. With a future prediction of China’s autonomous vehicles making up to 40 percent of new vehicle sales in 2040, and 12 percent of the vehicle installed base, no one can rule out a total take-over.
Nevertheless, the hysteria of the emergence of robots overshadows its actual impact on society. According to Rik Marselis, in his ‘Social Impact of Robotics’, those impacts cut across six facets of the economy which are Mechanical, Electrical, Information processing, machine intelligence, business impact and social impact.
A robot carries out a complex series of actions automatically. However, although industrial robots carry out activities accurately and fast, robot such as the autonomous vehicles cannot boast of such accuracy and impact as Reuters once stated that Google’s self-driving car was designed to go up to 10 miles (16 kilometres) faster than the speed limit, when traffic conditions becomes necessary. The dangers of autonomous vehicles going beyond the legal speed limit or lower have also been a matter of concern for those who visualise and would want action plan in place to avert numerous road accident as man and machine would share the road sometimes.
Also, in a study by a group BCG cited by Ohio University, it was predicted that ‘by the year 2035, 12 million fully autonomous vehicles and 18 million partially autonomous vehicles will be sold globally each year. In this same timeframe, vehicles with autonomous features will hold 25 percent of the new car market, with market growth somewhere between $42 billion and $77 billion.
Autonomous vehicles are projected to create new jobs such as ‘robot trainers’ and ‘robot psychologist’. However, it will also lead to a high rate of unemployment as drivers will no longer be needed. This will be forcing non-autonomous vehicle mechanics to learn more, leading to loss of jobs for those who cannot afford to learn autonomous vehicle repairs. It is for this reason that Peter Dizikes, writer of ‘How Many Jobs Do Robot Replace? noted that ‘some technologists have forecast that automation will lead to a future without work’.
Robotics negative effects on employment and wages will most likely cripple an already staggering economy like Nigeria: a country that has recorded 27.1 percent of unemployment in 2020. This is to say that with a labour force of 80.2 million about 21.7 million Nigerians are unemployed while many are also underemployed.
Unlike the industrial robot that gives business owners and workers more time to spend with families and friends to better their social lives, there is a possibility of a reverse case in an autonomous vehicle. This is because in the period of driving in non-autonomous vehicles conversation are built to kill loneliness and boredom.
Robotics inventions will further stretch the already massive gaps between the rich and the poor in Nigeria, leading to increased poverty and inequality.
The advent of robot no doubt has impacted greatly in the healthcare sector. Its impact on the sector spread on to the diagnosing patients, safer medical procedures, assisting children with autism and elderly and so on. However, this can also affect even the patient negative, like an elderly man being assisted by the computer (a robot) has a higher chance of developing vision impairment.
According to Lorelei Kujat, writer of ‘How Robot Impacted Healthcare in the Review: The Journal of Undergraduate Student Research emphasised that ‘the lack of therapeutic touch from robotics (i.e. video monitors and recordings) would also present an ethical concern with patients since touch is considered one of the most effective and frequently used interventions in clinical care. Although health staff would have to consider the value of touch and direct communication differing with each patient. Also, Gardner (1992) cited by Kujat stated that universally among health care, “physical closeness is considered as an embodiment of caring in clinical care” (pp. 191-200)
On a positive note, Robots are said to perform jobs more cheaply, more accurately and more reliably, than humans. This, however, cannot take the fact that a robot has higher maintenance and installation cost.
Robots such as the autonomous vehicle use telephone lines, satellite and technical staff. This means that moving from one place to the other will be monitored. The means of transmitting information has led to debates on user confidentiality that will pose more ethical issues. For these reasons, it has higher data breach risk and other cyber security issues.
Also, while others have stated that robotics in other areas are safe to use, the case looks different from the autonomous vehicle. According to co-founder and chief technology, Lou, ‘autonomous driving will only be considered a success if the safety driver can be removed from the vehicle and when mass deployment is achieved in several hundred cities around the world”.
The world has been inching toward robotics inventions for decades, longing even more for autonomous vehicles. Robots are virtual or mechanical objects that are used in facilitating the occurrence of multiple everyday activities. Though its positive impacts are huge, having its biggest mark in the automotive world, nevertheless, one cannot ignore its negative effect on society.
Faith Omo Ohioze