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Putting the ‘bots’ in Botswana?

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

A recent article had me reminiscing about my childhood and what jobs have disappeared since then and this subject of vanishing work functions and future careers re-emerged this week when I was interviewed about the future world of work – what it will look like and how, therefore,  HR managers should be preparing in anticipation.

It’s called the Fourth Industrial Revolution because it is the fourth major workplace and job function realignment since the original  industrial revolution of the 18th Century. It is characterized by a fast-moving fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems. Because of technology, its advances and the speed of it and how it affects us in every way, these disruptive technologies and trends such as the internet, virtual reality, artificial intelligence etc. will and are changing the way that we live and work.

This has many implications for HR Managers and indeed for people interested in what and how we will utilise humans in the future. The most immediate and obvious impact is that millions of jobs which will simply disappear as organisations decide which processes to automate and which human functions to replace with robots.  We have moved on from the scaremongering of the 80s and 90s which prophesied that computers would take over the world and make us all redundant. Such a reversal of roles is a quantum leap of reality and those sceptics were always rebuffed with the reassurance that there will always be jobs for humans and while that’s true the pertinent question remains, which ones?

As it gathers momentum how does one prepare for the 4th industrial revolution of data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing etc. New jobs are being created – I can think of several such as app developer and social media marketer – and there is a hoard of the very familiar jobs disappearing. This became especially apparent when I was in Europe recently. We were planning a big trip the following day and wanted to fill up the car with petrol rather than attend to it in the morning.

So, at 10pm I went to the petrol station where the entire process and transaction took place without any human interaction:  no petrol attendant, no cashier, no security. I was struck by its simplicity (and retrospectively how quick it all is if you take people out of the mix). The other incident happened the following day when I wanted to use a public toilet, but found it was closed for cleaning. The sign on the door said this would take approximately 20 minutes. What was interesting was that the toilet cleaned itself.

It went into lock down mode and in a process which I guess is like a washing machine, it gives itself a good hose down and disinfect and then through fans and heaters it dries and voilà, it’s open for business again. A ‘Wow’ for me but, self-cleaning public toilets are already a common sight in European cities.

It is obvious that most manual labour and unskilled jobs will disappear – many are already  gone from  agriculture and manufacturing, more so by the day. Earthbound Farms in California has robot arms that put organic lettuce into clamshell containers. They are so fast that each robot replaces two to five workers at the company.Boeing uses giant machines to make its wide-body commercial jets, finding them more precise and safer than human  workers. Royal Philips Electronics, which manufactures electric shavers more complex to make than smartphones, uses robots encased in glass cages on top of which are perched video cameras.  And the list goes on.

Then there are jobs which just cant justify an additional human component on the chain as they have been replaced by the ease of self-service, causing disruptive changes in the market – think travel agents (as people do their own flight and hotel bookings) and secretaries (as managers handle our own mail, appointments etc), postal delivery, bank teller, the list goes on.  

What we know for certain is that if technology can manage a process more efficiently than we can,  then the tech option will be adopted and that job will fall away which leaves us to deploy humans to jobs which computers can’t (and that’s why artificial intelligence is so scary and why we have movies that even postulate a scenario where you can have a relationship with a computer). Science fiction stuff, you may say, but when I see how addicted to their smart phones people are, Facebook and Snap chat I am thinking that anything is possible.

There is even the story of Senji Nakajima, who claims he enjoys the 'perfect' relationship with 'Saori' a blow up doll – even taking the dummy out shopping to buy it fancy outfits – despite the fact that he is married to a woman with whom he has two children. Senji, 61, from Nagano, lives with his life-size doll in his apartment in Tokyo where he enjoys a physical relationship with it – but he claims he is happy because his plastic companion isn't 'after only money'. Based on that don’t rule out a digital relationship!

The best way to predict where the future lies is to see trends which can act as a sign of where we are going and then adapt our world of work and education to that future. It’s almost certain that jobs in the green environmental sectors will be huge, the mental health field has exploded – once a territory ringfenced for psychiatrists and psychologists we are seeing the need for mental health counsellors in a range of organisations.  When it comes to education, we need to overhaul it completely.

Our current system spends so much time and effort into teaching children how to answer questions instead of how to ask questions (and computers are lousy at asking questions). Problem solving and critical thinking skills will be the skills in most demand…and then adding judgment into the mix (computers are also lousy a prioritising and determining what’s important).

As remote and flexible workers will become more commonplace  there is a need to teach students true team working so that they will be adaptable and cooperative enough to work in multi-disciplinary teams where there is less familiarity within the team members and often cultural differences which means that an advanced level of inter-personal skills and cooperativeness is required in order to be effective and accepted – in other words being on your best behaviours – which currently many employees don’t bother about in their all too comfortable job and familiar  team environment (not sure a computer can do that either!).

What this all boils down to is that for now and far into the future, machines and robots work for and on behalf of mankind, not the other way round, relieving their human masters and mistresses of menial or repetitive tasks, freeing up humans for critical-thinking functions.  And let’s face it, no-one wakes up one day and decides that what they really want to do in life is clean lavatories!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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