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Google Wants to Build an Army of Robots to Replace Factory Workers

By Dino Grandoni 

We have some disheartening news for those who fear one day losing their job to a hunk of metal.

The New York Times reported that Andy Rubin, the boss behind Google’s Android operating system, is manning the company’s next “moonshot” effort: A division building and experimenting with robots. The project is similar to Google’s initiatives to develop computerized glasses and driverless cars, but with one notable difference: The robots won’t be sold to regular folks, but to businesses looking to streamline manufacturing.

“The company’s expected targets are in manufacturing — like electronics assembly, which is now largely manual — and competing with companies like Amazon in retailing,” writes John Markoff, citing people familiar with the project. Google isn’t saying much about what it’s got planned.

Google’s decision to disclose its robotics program comes on the heels of Amazon’s announcement that it’s developing drones that can deliver packages.

The one-upmanship is unsurprising. Tech companies like Google and Amazon need to convince the public and their shareholders that they are on the cutting edge of innovation.

But both initiatives promise one thing the companies probably don’t wish to emphasize: These hot, new technologies will probably replace jobs done now by blue-collar delivery personnel and factory workers.

While invention often displaces workers to the overall benefit of society — few miss the horse-and-buggy days that drove carriage drivers out of business — the coming wave of robotics stands to put a lot of people out of work.

An Oxford University study from last year predicted that 45 percent of U.S. jobs were “at high risk” of being lost to computerized machines. Some of the fields most most vulnerable, according to the researchers, including transportation and production.

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