Monday 16 January 2017

Your next iPhone could be built by robot workers

Cara McGoogan

Published 27/05/2016 | 08:54

Workers in the Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in the southern Guangdong province
Workers in the Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in the southern Guangdong province

One of the manufacturing companies that makes iPhones has replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. 

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Foxconn, which manufactures components for Apple and Samsung, slashed the workforce of one of its factories in half in order to replace the human workers with mechanical ones, according to the South China Morning Post. 

The company has not disclosed what factory the robots are working in and if they will be manufacturing the iPhone 7.

"We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees," said a spokesman for Foxconn.

Foxconn indicated that it has plans to grow its robotic employee roster as it "harnesses automation". As it does so, it hopes its human workforce will be able to focus on "higher value added elements in the manufacturing process", such as research, development and quality control.

Will robots replace human workers?

It is an almost accepted fact that robots will replace human workers. Within 30 years it is highly likely that mechanical beings will have taken over most jobs, according to experts. 

"We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task," said Moshe Vardi, a professor in computational engineering, at a conference in earlier this year. 

The rise of robots could leave humans with an existential dilemma. "Computer scientists are working on building machines that can out compete us in everything we can do. If machines can do all the work or even 50 per cent of the jobs that we used to do, what will people do?" said Vardi. 

Companies that operate in the area where Foxconn has employed its robotic workforce have invested 4.2 billion yen (£430 mn) in robots since September 2014.

In the UK the first employees that could lose out to robots are customer service agents. With Silicon Valley giants going head-to-head with new chatbots,  we're going to be interacting more and more with robotic customer service personell rather than human employees. 

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