back to article Replacing humans with robots in your factories? Hold on just a sec

The integration of robots into production processes will impact on traditional liability arrangements and raise a range of other legal issues for manufacturers to consider, including in relation to health, safety and data protection. A rise in the number of robots in operation might also prompt social and ethical dilemmas that …

  1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    We need to have zero corporate tax and low taxes for the rich in order to attract businesses to our nation/province/muni! The governments really make their money off the taxes of the workers! That's where the real income is!

    Oh, wait...

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      I think you need to look at the business side of this. Nobody will be able to buy products if they're unemployed. So if we fire everyone, we can skip that expensive investment in robots and the technicians needed to maintain them, and keep the money ourselves. In fact, I understand all you have to do is add a little yeast to your cash, put in the airing cupboard, and it will multiply on its own.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "In fact, I understand all you have to do is add a little yeast to your cash, put in the airing cupboard, and it will multiply on its own."

        I think you mean "add a little Viagratm". Adding yeast just causes inflation.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one Welcome my new robot overlords...

    I will faithfully apply needed lubricants to any part you wish & hope I can prove useful to you.

    Humans may be squishy but we're a right pain in the capacitors to clean out of your motherboards!

    1. caffeine addict Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: I for one Welcome my new robot overlords...

      I will faithfully apply needed lubricants to any part you wish & hope I can prove useful to you.

      I think you're on the wrong website...

  3. Crisp Silver badge
    Terminator

    Replace human workers with robots?

    There's every danger that this has already happened. Phone any major company and who picks up the phone first? A human or a robot?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Replace human workers with robots?

      indeed - when i read the first sentence of the article I thought I'd gone back to the seventies!

    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Replace human workers with robots?

      "Phone any major company and who picks up the phone first? A human or a robot?"

      And a stellar job the answering machine does too! Oh, wait...

      Oh, yes, I mean, it is great at deflecting pesky people from talking to the almighty corporation.

      And if that doesn't work, route the call to India, why not!?

      (Admittedly I have sometimes had great service from India, and not great from locally, so it's a mixed bag.)

  4. Floating Sinker

    The overlords are coming!

    CGP Grey covers this nicely... https://youtu.be/7Pq-S557XQU

  5. Ru'

    So basically this is the lawyers trying to ensure that even if all other jobs get replaced by machines, they'll still be utterly vital?

    1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      The good news is

      That lawyers are very likely to find that a lot of their "work" gets replaced by computers.

      They won't be quite the first against the wall when the techno revolution comes, but they won't be far off.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: The good news is

        There are several useless professions that should have been against the wall at about the turn of the century due to mass communication - ie the internet, but continue to parasite along...

        number one on the list - estate agents

        - Insurance agents

        - recruitmant agents

        - mortgage advisors

        - High street shops

        pretty much anyboy with "agent" in their title , cos that pretty much means "middleman skimming off some money before passing the work on"

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: The good news is

          "pretty much anybody with "agent" in their title , cos that pretty much means "middleman skimming off some money before passing the work on""

          Some jobs that might still not be replaced by robots in the near future:

          Secret agent

          Agent provocateur (more of a role than a job)

          Special agent

          Agent orange.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The good news is

            Even Insurance agents are needed. Ever hear of Insurance fraud?

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The good news is

          "pretty much anyboy with "agent" in their title "

          Agent Smith might argue that point unless you are Neo.

        3. Black Betty

          Re: The good news is

          The point and origin of these professions is that they do something on behalf of a large number of individuals who would could not do that thing themselves, or do it only with considerable difficulty or risk.

          ie, Bargaining collectively as for insurance, or doing a complex once in decades task like buying and/or selling property.

          The problem does not lie in the professions you list, but the manner in which the industries which employ them have changed from servicing their clients to being profit mills for shareholders.

      2. Nasruddin

        Re: The good news is

        The law already says some legal decisions can be made by computers, independently of humans- see s2 of the Social Security Act 1998. In theory at least, a DWP computer can decide if you have a sufficient level of relevant disability to qualify for a benefit, or good cause for not doing something t that would otherwise get you sanctioned. In practice, not so much, at least at present. But claimants, salute your electronic overlords...

  6. Mage Silver badge

    Robots?

    What sort of robots?

    We have had programmable factory automation since 1930s*. CPUs and flash memory Profibus has replaced paper tape, punched cards etc. Manipulator arms etc that can be trained by a human to do the welding, spraying or pick and place etc have replaced less flexible hardware.

    [* The Luddites objected to the power looms in the early 19th C., Card programmed weaving patterns using a powered loom invented in 1801!

    Most robots are not humanoid. I don't see that the shape makes any difference to corporate responsibility. They are all programmed by humans. All are no different to any computer controlling moving parts.

  7. Baldy50

    Asimov.

    Hope they have the three laws!

    A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Asimov.

      "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

      What about if it topples over and falls on someone? I think that might be more the safety issues than they accidentally run amok.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Asimov.

      Does management qualify as human beings?

      Hopeful Anonymous

  8. EveryTime Silver badge

    Was there useful content in this story?

    Or was it just marketing drivel posing as a news story?

    Machines have been used to automate parts of the manufacturing process for centuries. An increasing proportion of the work is done by machines. We've been calling some of those machines 'robots' for decades. Anyone with the capability to read this story knows this.

    1. caffeine addict Silver badge

      I've given up on reading the out-law "articles" and come straight to the comments... :/

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Terminator

    Nothing to see here

    I work in manufacturing .. with robots and various other types of computer controlled nonsense

    There are rules on the safety guarding surrounding said robots, who can enter, using what key, and making sure the power is locked off first.

    The only way anyone can get hurt is by bypassing the safety lockouts (which can get you fired), also in such an event, any compensation paid will be cut by 95% because it was the idiots fault in trying to get back his iPhone that he dropped on the floor and slid under the fence.

    The software said of things is covered by the manufacturers warrenty that said "in the event of damage, the manufacturer is not responsible for a programming f***up"

  10. evilhippo

    A "robot" is just a machine and machines have been a facet of manufacturing for a very long time. Health and safety laws and minimum wage regulations (and other taxes on job taxes like social security) motivate companies to get rid of human workers *entirely* as the technology becomes available, because that is what state regulations are incentivizing companies to do. Of course that might also put a few lawyers at Pinsent Masons out of a job as well, but that is just a happy consequence of automation rather than its primary objective.

  11. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Megaphone

    In the history of IT, nobody has ever managed to squeeze a dime out of a software purveyor for poor quality code, crashing programs, servers or whatever ... ever!

    Now, you lawyers, please leave, go away ...no, I will not give you any money, I don't support the mafia so I will not support you !

  12. cfbrown73

    Scary

    Its Very scary when you think about it.

    Just think of the billions of manual workers e.g. cloth workers, in Asia. If they got replaced by robots, and they can, what would happen to their economies and the impact on our Globalised world?

    What would happen to all the unskilled workers in the west and the skilled? Im sure a robot could do many jobs we classed as skilled.

    What will be left for us squishies. I’ve got another 30+ years before retirement will I make all the way through with a job.

    I think I need to go for a lie down for a while.

    1. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

      Re: Scary

      "...will I make all the way through with a job..."

      I'd say "probably not".

    2. James 51 Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Scary

      The speculation is that when processes are automated to the point mass unemployment is problem either the robots will be so productive they can provide for everyone or the businesses will be taxed and provide a minimum level of income for the unemployed. Basically either Atlantis or Mega City One depending on your reading material and view of human nature.

    3. Smooth Newt
      Meh

      Re: Scary

      Just think of the billions of manual workers e.g. cloth workers, in Asia. If they got replaced by robots, and they can, what would happen to their economies and the impact on our Globalised world?

      Won't happen - most Asian sweatshops workers are both cheaper than robots and have fewer rights.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Scary

        "Won't happen - most Asian sweatshops workers are both cheaper than robots and have fewer rights."

        But do note that the Asian sweatshop countries do eventually get a leg up, industrialise and then outsource to the next nearest "cheap" nation. It's a domino effect where the dominos are lying down and slowly standing up in turns. Unless already developed countries countries crash down to 3rd world status, eventually we'll run out of sweatshops.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Scary

      "What will be left for us squishies. I’ve got another 30+ years before retirement will I make all the way through with a job."

      Start retaining NOW as a robot service tech. Get in on the ground floor. That might get you another 10 years before they replace that job with more robots. If anyone mentions self-replicating robots, shoot first, ask questions later.

  13. sjiveson

    "It is important ... to ensure that they have contractual arrangements in place with each machine or technology supplier. This will assist the manufacturer in being able to apportion liability and pass back any losses or costs that they incur as a result of any failures or outages."

    I have never seen an IT manufacturer, even one earning 20% a year in support fees, ever admit liability or pay losses incurred due to failings in their hardware or software. What a load of shite.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop spreading this fud! It will only excite the ignorant public and politicians and retard science and progoress for years to come. =(

    These questions are not new, and they have been raise since the dawn of the industrial revolution. When factories and industrialisation appeared, everyone was fretting over the same questions and how machines would take jobs away.

    What happened? From having to work on sundays, we introduced free sundays for everyone because productivity increases allowed us to do so. Then came saturdays, then came 40 hour work weeks, then 35 hour work weeks in some countries, and 4, 5, 6 weeks of vacation.

    Now the funny thing here is... I don't hear anyone complaining about 6 weeks vacation or 35 hour work weeks. It seems to be generally appreciated.

    Also keep in mind that the jobs that will go first are the boring jobs, that no one wants to be doing, and they won't go at once. They will be automatized over years and years. What remains in the long, long, run is leisure, creative pursuits, artisanal jobs, and intellectual jobs.

    Because people said that jobs would run out when the population hit 1 billion. Now we are 7 billion and jobs did not run out. As long as the human being has needs, wants and desires, there will always be jobs.

    So STOP agonizing over increase leisure time, and start to enjoy it instead. =)

  15. TRT Silver badge

    As a company...

    you'll be wanting to mitigate and lessen any potential liability claims, as well as ensuring that you don't lose production from production lines automata that are unreliable and/or require extensive servicing. So my message to any bosses thinking of investing in automation like this is to go for a quality robot; forget those cheap, mass-produced general purpose robots - buy one that's been hand built.

    1. Disk0
      Coat

      Re: As a company...

      I best like the artisanal Patagonian handwoven robots with environmental certification and tribal healing crystals...

      Mine's the one with the metal wind-up toy in the side pocket....

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: As a company...

        The ones that only use fairtrade, ethically sourced, extra virgin organic vegetable oils for the hydraulic system? Fantastic machines. Feng shui the factory and you're good for 12 years.

  16. Adam Foxton

    If I might make an observation

    Surely the first thing to do should be to flowchart the law, to make the rules as they stand properly bounded and clear. Weightings can be given to different crimes to determine punishment, threshhold of evidence, etc

    Which also has the advantage that we can start to get rid of Lawyers too!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Researchers at Sheffield University earlier this year described how they had "applied an automated programming method" to simultaneously control up to 600 robots and get them to carry out different tasks in a coordinated fashion.

    Once upon a time Sheffield had some very good people looking at formally understanding machine behaviour (don't all groan at once). The trend towards 'emergent behaviour' (aka lets try it and see what happens and if it seems to be useful declare success) in both universities and the odd company (Yes Bristol and HP looking at you amongst others) is not a good sign if we need to have an understanding of the limits of such behaviour. Unless of course you want swarms of cats running your system, guided by treats!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Unless of course you want swarms of cats running your system, guided by treats!"

      I did once hear of a computer powered by ants. IIRC the PHB was one Ponder Stibbons. Or was he the BOFH?

      +++Divide By Cucumber Error. Please Reinstall Universe And Reboot +++

  18. Black Rat
    Terminator

    Humans still have their uses

    A few years ago Crediton dairy used to employ half a dozen fleshy meatbags from the Job Centre to load milk cartons onto pallets because it was cheaper than the running costs of the robotic stacker & qualified operator. Out of curiosity I just had a quick scan of low end agency job vacancies being offered in the Exeter area and it looks as if they are still doing it.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Humans still have their uses

      This is exactly the reason many low end jobs won't be automated any time soon. Especially the tasks where flexibility of process is required automating things is very very hard. Automating a stacking system seems simple enough, but is actually a massive challenge. Automating stacking of different kinds of boxes with different weights is even more of a challenge. One that meatbags (even on the less educated end of the scale) deal with quite easily but can be a nightmare to automate and keep running.

      Automating requires a Return on Investment that outweights the initial investment costs within a reasonable time. If automating a task doesn't return the initial investment in the economic lifetime of the system (Typically between 5 and 10 years) then it's simply not automated.

  19. NotBob

    They're takin' our jorbs!

  20. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Trollface

    replaced by a computer (now you program them)

    "There is a risk, for example, that increased automation will lead to mass unemployment and raise a multitude of social and economic issues that policy makers will have to grapple with"

    well, in the 1950's, people who added numbers all day for a bank DEFINITELY had THEIR jobs replaced, and they went out and found other things to do, like maybe PROGRAM the computers?

    I'd rather have computers and robots take away all of the menial boring tasks so people can focus on creative tasks LIKE computer programming, or bot maintenance, or "some other task" that is a direct result of a 'robot revolution', and much more interesting than putting tab A into slot B all day...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: replaced by a computer (now you program them)

      "well, in the 1950's, people who added numbers all day for a bank DEFINITELY had THEIR jobs replaced, and they went out and found other things to do, like maybe PROGRAM the computers?"

      Even more ironic since those people were usually known as "computers" before the word got stolen and now means a machine, not a person. But then, the origin of robot itself is probably known to most readers here.

  21. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    tl;dr

    There are more robots and this ought to mean more work for lawyers.

    Unfortunately:

    "Hey Google/Siri who's liable for the mess I'm pointing the camera at?"

  22. Fan of Mr. Obvious

    will liability be the bottleneck?

    What does nearly every [good] software license have in it? A clause that exempts the author from any liability resulting from the use of the software. If software companies are not going to accept liability (which they won't), and laws are not going to be passed/modified to exempt companies form being liable (which they won't), how are the lawyers going to make money? Sure, laws will be changed to say software companies can be held liable, but then costs will skyrocket thus injecting another dimension.

  23. Michael Hoffmann
    Coat

    Still a use for humans!

    Using robots frees up humans for Testing!

    So, volunteer for testing today!

    Mine's the one with exploding lemons in the pocket.

  24. Oengus Silver badge

    Reversal

    I remember seeing this article a while ago. Yes some companies are replacing people but others are realising that Robots are not always the answer.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You are not needed to run factories or die in wars.

    [i]"The displacement of the human workforce by robots raises broader ethical and sociological issues too.There is a risk, for example, that increased automation will lead to mass unemployment and raise a multitude of social and economic issues that policy makers will have to grapple with. [/i]

    The article is based on premises that no longer exist, including the idea that human workers must have rights and should be listened to by governments.

    Workers, people, the masses, were only given basic rights and listened to because the wealthy needed them to, increasingly, leave farms, work in factories and die in wars. There was also the fear that the peasants could effectively revolt. As a result the masses were given rights and the vote. Having the vote was meant to placate workers into thinking they had a say but those days are gone.

    Today governments do not consult the ignorant masses before deciding what to do. Instead those that vote are managed, manipulated and lied to while governments answer to an increasingly few international elite. An elite who care less and less that people are finally starting to see that governments do not act in the interest of their citizens.

    Which is why governments entered into trade deals that required those nations trying to protect workers and the environment to be punished by having to compete directly with nations who care little for human life or the environment.

    Remove the no longer valid ideas that masses of people are needed to run the factories, die in wars, could effectively revolt and that governments answer to and act in the best interest of citizens. Only then can we realistically consider the consequences of increasing automation and cheap robots able to compete even when it comes to basic "manual" labour.

    Removing the old flawed premises and acknowledging the world we live in results in a better explanation of what has and is occurring and will shed more light on what is to come.

  26. nilfs2
    Holmes

    It's called evolution

    With technology, factory line jobs can be automated with robots, that means that low skill labor force is no longer needed, which means that low skilled people should get some degree of education and become skilled or highly skilled to do tasks that a robot can't do, like designing new robots.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: thanks for the laugh!

      Hahaha good one. That oft repeated mantra sounds so ridiculous now that we can look at many past generations that had to live through such "evolution".

      Not only does the generation first put out of work not get easier, better and higher paying jobs but these days governments can't get those new robot workers or more efficient companies to pay anywhere near the tax rate of citizens. As a result paid for education, let alone re-education, is out of the question, while increased taxes for citizens is not.

      Worst yet with the wealthy few paying little tax while hoarding trillions and buying democracies increased new found efficiency is not benefiting society as it did, could or should.

      So the cry Evolve or die, sounds particularly funny in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. It sounds like the start of a stand up routine.

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