Will robots take over low-paid jobs?

Touching upon a recent report, Software Testing News Journalist, Leah Alger, asks senior software testers their thoughts on artificial intelligence taking over low-paid jobs

A report created by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) warned that, within less than two decades, it will be cheaper for US factories to operate robots instead of hiring workers.

The report, Digitalisation and the Future of Manufacturing in Africa, found that cheap automation costs will be the cause of job losses for people from Africa, as manufacturers will turn to wealthier economies.

Despite this, it’s not just African citizens who have the worry of their jobs being taken over by artificial intelligence.

Surjit Jandu, scrum master at River Island, commented: “Man has always found ways to avoid doing mundane or repetitive tasks. In the past, these have started with washing machines and electric kettles, however, the age of ‘intelligent’ robots is already upon us albeit more so in business scenarios (so far).

‘Ever-increasing brain power’

“The cost of the creation and running of these new robot workers is constantly reducing to the point where even today a generic robot able to do multiple tasks can be hired out on a ‘low’ daily tariff.

“We are quickly approaching the point where it will make economic sense to get a robot (which always works to a consistent quality and does not sleep, get tired, moody, take holidays or complain) to replace the repetitive, mundane jobs people are doing today.

“This is already happening in large warehouses such as the likes of Amazon and Alibaba where robots are already doing 70% of the work. The take-up of robots in industry and in our homes is inevitable.

“The bigger question is what the people whose jobs are being replaced will do given the ever-increasing ‘brain power’ and use of artificial intelligence.”

The study highlighted a mixture of opinions. ODI, in particular, disagreed with critics who believe poorer countries will be less affected by artificial intelligence, because of having less money to invest in intelligence demonstrated by machines.

Will AI replace low-paid roles?

Senior test automation engineer at Just Eat, Thomas Shipley, added: “Artificial intelligence will continue to replace lower paid and more rote roles.

“Although I do think for QA professionals, we will be using more augmentation services when writing and testing code, and more rote and simplistic manual and automated testing will be replaced by artificial intelligence.”

ODI’s report noted that, by 2034, the price of operating robots and 3D printers in the USA will be cheaper than wages in Kenya. This came as a surprise, as the average monthly salary in Kenya is as little as 6,498 shillings (US$76).

Senior consultant, controls and automation specialist at Austin Fraser, Iain McCulley, added: “There is an opportunity regardless of location, for people to upskill and create new and exciting opportunities for engineers.

‘Robots and humans can work together’

“There is a number of examples of how robots and humans can work together to advance efficiency and increase production.

“I think our education system has a responsibility to provide opportunities to develop a career within automation, while companies should also be thinking about apprenticeship programmes and how we can provide a platform for aspiring engineers to pursue a career within the industry.”

Furthermore, it was predicted that robotic automation will cost less than Ethiopian workers between 2038 and 2042.

Director of DevOps at ADP UK, Keith Watson, continued: “Ethiopian workers should invest now to improve the skills base and infrastructure in digitisation and associated technology.

“This means they can, not only, become a recognised skill base in automation by that time but also develop alternative skills and market opportunities that can gradually replace businesses that currently rely mainly on manual labour.”

ODI also advises nations wanting to have a career in the USA to develop technical skills through hubs and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

Written by Leah Alger