THE INDUSTRY 4.0 “WORKFORCE”:
Making Us Reevaluate Human Endeavor
Some presidential candidates have suggested restraining international trade as a means to restoring and retaining jobs in the U.S.; however, simple observation of the ever-expanding and increasingly interactive flows of goods, services, finance, people and digital communications confirms our global economy does not easily afford artificial barriers.
Equalizing the field of international trade is laudable, however, we need to also—or moreso—recognize that the nature of Industry 4.0 itself is catapulting advanced manufacturing in the direction of substantially fewer workers and more automation.
Industry 4.0 facilitates the vision and execution of a Smart Factory. Within the modular structured Smart Factory, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions.
Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time, and via the Internet of Services, both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and utilized by participants of the value chain.
However, workers’ pay, training, benefits and taxes are more expensive relative to robotic counterparts. As a result, the vision of Industry 4.0 suggests that the adoption of big data, autonomous robots, simulations, additive manufacturing, system integration and augmented reality will further reduce the number of jobs.
While we all would like to think that we are not replaceable—from publishers to financial advisors, to bus drivers, firefighters, doctors and surgeons—new technology and artificial intelligence are replacing more tasks and supplanting more jobs.
Even the big consulting groups like McKinsey and Company and the Boston Consulting Group have suggested that it is likely that 45 percent of current jobs will be provided by robots. As a result, increasing unemployment may reach 50 percent in 30 years.
There will be jobs for those that build and service these new machines; however, programs are also being written so that these machines will repair themselves.
Combining the impact of all these new technologies, it is probable to conclude that we will be facing potentially devastating economic upheaval. With the future of human labor in doubt, we will need to reconsider the next generation of “jobs” that will enable our livelihood.
Over the past 50 years, the impact of technological change has moved people from the farms to the factories and then to a nation substantially built on services. As technology continues to replace and supplant human labor and thought, we might envision further evolution to a reduced work week allowing time for more creative work that will end up as ever-newer innovations and entrepreneurial opportunities supported by technology.
More time invites more creativity, especially with the access and application of technology to support such thought work. Art, culture, travel, education and adventure will be pursued in a multitude of ways including virtual reality and high-speed travel.
Our old manufacturing revolution and its applications will pale in comparison to future production. We won’t need to produce 5,000 widgets in a factory to reduce the price of an individual widget; we can simply scan one and 3D-manufacture it from anywhere. We may be able to diagnose our own ailments and identify treatments that have been designed for our individual DNA. We may even learn to eat certain foods that will cure our ailments and prevent future health problems.
We need to embrace a broader dialogue on these challenges to rethink and reassess how these changes will affect our values and purpose. Our “world” is being radically disrupted, but maybe that disruption will give way to even more innovation and creativity than we know today.
We need to look forward, not be lulled into the thinking of the past century and applying arcane solutions. We need to reevaluate the human endeavor and what makes us fundamentally individually valuable.