Collaborative Robots

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Ron Eglash et al.:

"Recent literature on human-machine work collaboration has frequently focused on collaborative robots (“cobots”), where humans and robots work together side by side to accomplish shared work goals (Colgate et al. 1996; Peshkin and Colgate 1999; You et al. 2018). Human-robot work collaboration is being offered as a potential solution to the fear of massive job losses due to automation. But, as we detail below, our preliminary research shows two different faces to this work. As an example of public-facing discourse, Rethink Robotics has produced TED talks and other media showing how “cobots” allow workers to continue in a new collaborative role.

But in their industry-facing discourse, CEO Scott Eckert’s blog (Eckert 2016) explicitly positions cobots as solving “the rising cost of labor”, implying massive layoffs. Indeed robots are expected to replace nearly half the human workforce in 10‒20 years (Ackerman. 2014, Owais et al. 2014; Webster, 2014). In many cases robots will entirely replace their human counterparts. For example, robotic process automation (RPA) provides “digital workers” which can both perform the work of humans and manage other “digital workers.” (Lacity & Willcocks, 2016; Le Clair, 2017)." (