A chief executive of a manufacturing company is considering replacing current employee line positions with robots. The expectation is to essentially replace a total of four employees with one robot and one employee only. The time that it takes to finish the product by the robot is estimated to be less than one minute (rather than one minute for each of the four employees.) One employee is needed to examine the finished product. The employee and the robot work collaboratively. The robot is easy to move and reprogram and is a safe working companion (If it hits someone, it stops working without causing injury.). The robot paid for itself within two months by increasing the efficiency of the process and eliminating scrap. Productivity actually decreased at first when the robot was installed because employees enjoyed watching it work. The chief executive believes that manufacturing systems in the future will work alone through taking raw materials and transforming them into products. He believes such a system will create more (not less) jobs and allow the company’s machine operators to use their knowledge to help program the robots to do the work more efficiently and effectively rather than personally perform the work. As a result, the operators can put more effort into coming up with more creative and innovative ways to make products. This company is not alone in its efforts to have employees and robots work together. Siemens Corporation is designing a data glove that allows an employee to control and direct a robot arm. The glove captures and transforms the movements of human hands into actions performed by the robot hand, matching the strength and accuracy of robots with human decision-making power. At General Motor’s Lake Orion automobile manufacturing plant, a robot lifts tires and stacks them on a cart. 1. To what extent do you believe that robots will ultimately replace humans in jobs? 2. What skills will employees need to be trained in to work alongside robots? Why? 3. What are the larger sociological considerations that people should consider when designing and implementing robots/automation into homes and/or businesses?
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