No time for fear

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The recent IntraLogisteX exhibition highlighted the fact that artificial intelligence and robotics is no longer just science fiction – more and more organisation are looking to the technology to respond to the challenges facing supply chain and logistics operations.

But there is no doubt that one of the biggest obstacles is simply fear of the impact of these technologies. The latest example comes from the “Daily Star” which claimed yesterday (18th March) that “artificial intelligence could spark mental health issues in the human population”.

Malory Davies, FCILT, Editor.

Malory Davies, FCILT, Editor.

It quoted Charles Towers-Clark, chief executive of Pod Group: “Within the next 25 years, a large part of society may very well end up being unable to find employment, which will leave them disenfranchised and depressed.”

It’s an argument that doesn’t really resonate in an industry that all too often struggles to find enough people to fill vacancies, both in warehouses and on the road. The opportunity to find ways of doing the same amount of work with fewer people seems too good to miss.

Recent research by Epicor found that 41 per cent of young people was the opportunity to work with the latest innovations. Mark Hughes, VP UK and Ireland, says: “Because robots can automate repetitive tasks, they are an effective way of relieving a strained workforce from manual or difficult labour (54 per cent), can free up people to work on more creative tasks (40 per cent), and can optimise processes faster and more effectively than humans (34 per cent)—allowing manufacturers to drive future business growth.”

And he argues that these new technologies could help close the skill gap—enabling industrial businesses, which have often been perceived as ‘old-fashioned’, to get noticed by young people, and encourage more talent into the market.

It’s worth looking at an industry that has already embraced robotics – the motor industry, which employs some 186,000 people directly according to 2018 figures from the SMMT. The equivalent figure in 2016 was 169,000 people employed directly.

Clearly, AI and robotics will bring big changes and it’s important to understand and plan for those changes. But it would be a mistake to fall prey to fear of the technology and start breaking out the anti-depressants already.

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