Factory Workers Lose Jobs to Robots

Foxconn, the major supplier for both Apple and Samsung, just replaced 60,000 of its workers with robots. According to one government official who spoke to the South China Morning Post, one factory has “reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots.”

foxconnAccording to Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, “More companies are likely to follow suit.”

China has been making major investments in the creation and implementation of a robotic workforce, much to the dismay of many human workers fearful for their jobs.

Foxconn Technology Group confirmed its automation of “many of the manufacturing tasks associated with our operations” but denied that this would necessary lead to long-term job losses.

“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control,” the company said in a statement.

“We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.”

Factories across Dongguan, located in the Guangdong province, have invested over around $450 million into the creation of robots that could replace human workers since 2014.

Economists have expressed heavy warnings regarding the automation of jobs and the effect it could have on the job market and the quality of human life. Consultants with the Deloitte in partnership with Oxford University released a report that suggests that up to 35% of jobs may be at risk within the next 20 years.

foxconn2According to Ed Rensi, former McDonald’s chief executive, a minimum-wage increase to $15 would force companies to consider opting into robot workers:

“It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries,” he stated.

The automation of jobs and steady development of the tech industry may cause many to consider what has gone largely undiscussed in our internet era: what is the purpose of technology, and for whom is it supposed to function? To automate a process once performed by thousands of workers without creating some new jobs for those workers to complete would constitute an advancement in technology that can be argued is not for the betterment of humanity or the optimization of the robothuman standard of life. When technological advancements are made not with the intention of helping society at large but instead with the intention of helping one small pocket of society become powerful (technology of war and big business), the necessity for governments to step in and police advancement itself can be argued for.

But what would that policing look like, and what kind of government would be worthy to make such difficult and philosophical decisions? And who can really control whether a technologist creates something that will give power to a group of people or not? It’s a sticky situation and a moral quandry that is up to younger generations to decide.

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