Pros and cons in the use of robotics

A pull robot deployed at Jewel Changi Airport.
A pull robot deployed at Jewel Changi Airport.PHOTO: ST FILE

With the introduction of newer technologies such as artificial intelligence and automated machinery, unemployment rates may skyrocket due to machines being cheaper and easier to employ than humans (Robots to wipe out 20m jobs by 2030: Study, June 27).

This can cause problems for Singapore. As this is related to structural unemployment (which is caused by the changing structure of the economy), it will reduce the number of workers needed, leading to both lower wages and lower employment levels. With the lower levels of employment come lots of jobless workers, whose jobs have been taken over by robots.

The unemployed are a burden on the economy. Because they are not productive, what results is a sustained economic cost over a period of time.

Wage inequality will also be present. As technology is meant to replace menial workers and benefit those with more skills, inequality will inevitably increase due to higher-skilled workers being more in demand (which will both increase their wages and their levels of employment) along with the decrease in demand for unskilled workers (as robots start to take over their jobs).

However, this also has the potential to increase the productivity of businesses.

Robots are typically much more efficient compared with traditional labour, and this has the potential to significantly boost Singapore's economy.

Ideally, robots will cost less to upkeep and if so, will increase the amount of goods being produced and reduce the costs of production.

Thankfully, the Government has put in place retraining programmes and policies to reduce unemployment by giving the affected part of the workforce new skills that will be useful in the economy. Therefore, although it will not remove the effects of unemployment entirely, it will most certainly help to lessen the costs and burdens associated with it. This will also help to reduce wage inequality by increasing the demand for workers in jobs machines can't do.

Justin Riley Hong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2019, with the headline 'Pros and cons in the use of robotics'. Print Edition | Subscribe