Machines. We are surrounded by machines. Those that help us in our kitchen to chop, grind, etc., or in the industry to weld, cut, among others uses. Home hardware or industrial machinery always require human manipulation to complete processes or tasks.
Due to the invention of automotive vehicles, whether these are steam or hydrocarbon combustion, it was necessary to develop a new form of measurement to translate the power of these new machines to "horsepower", referring to the power provided by steeds who used to pull the carriages, now replaced by the car.
Robots. We are surrounded by robots. Not as we usually imagine them from science fiction movies/books but designed to complete simple tasks. Machines that accommodate bowling alleys, game machines in casinos, or cell phones. Systems that provide multiple services on the Internet. ATMs, parking meters, to order fast food, answerphone systems, slot machines, or supporting the work of migration officials in airports or seaports. Some machines are even able to fly an airplane, drive trains, boats, and other public or private transport without guaranteeing total autonomy, for the moment, at least.
When technology can complete tasks from the beginning to end, autonomously; we are talking about robots. In fact, within the work process, a robot may be able to replace a human worker; either in some part of the production chain or at all.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots, generate long-term economies for companies that use them, but at the same time they substitute, little by little, labour that translates into unemployment, which leads to an unsustainable balance of pension systems.
For example, in the Health, Nutrition and Sports sector we can bring to analysis the case of a complete blood count that, processed by a Clinical Chemical Microbiologist, can take several minutes to do so, with a standardized cost per test. However, if we do it in a multiple laboratory processor that can process several tens at a time and in a few minutes, the net cost of each test falls to less than 5% of the standard manual cost. It is important to mention that the owner of a multiple processor, might not be allowed to charge the net cost indicated, plus indirect costs and a reasonable profit. The report that is delivered to the final client, must be signed by the Clinical Chemical Microbiologist duly registered.
The seriousness of all this, is not that technology contributes to accelerate these processes, that are necessary and unpostponable. Nor is it the trade union defence of the Clinical Chemical Microbiologist who, after being trained for 5 or 6 years, is entitled to a fair remuneration; noble health profession, which has contributed as few to the development of the sector and national scientific work. The problem is that the benefits of technology in reducing costs are not always transferred to the final consumer, and that automated scaling processes do not contribute financially to the social contributions/investments necessary for society.
It seems that the time has come to measure "working hours" in a different way; the way in which humans are replaced by robots or other technologies producing or providing services, but that also contributing –jointly– to pension funds in order to cover the deficit produced by unemployment rates due to this unstoppable relay. We can call that new measurement as “workpower”.
There is a lot of international evidence showing that this phenomenon cannot be stopped (as example, nowadays we celebrate national and world robotic olympics/events!). Organizations such as the ILO, the OECD, regional, continental, and international social security organizations have studied the phenomenon, identifying the degree and depth of what we are already facing.
On this respect, McKinsey Global Institute has published papers/articles demonstrating the current automation potential per country, and especially in the United States. They warn that change will not happen as fast as we thought it to be. Others are convinced that the transformation has been with us for a long time, as I argued at the beginning.
Society must find a way to help those who become unemployed because of replacement by artificial technology. We must continue working and contributing to the development of our communities. And above all, helping these people to achieve their goals based on their choice and circumstances. The question left now would be: Will we be able to take this first step voluntarily, or will the reality push us to react, as usual? It seems that technology, pensions, retirement funds and constant change will force us to do it anyway.