The trick to saving human factory jobs might be teaming up with the machines


Enlarge / “Oh brave new industry, that has such bots in’t!” (credit: Javier Pierini / Getty)

The Matrix. Skynet. Roy Batty. Anyone who has watched a science-fiction movie has seen a scenario where factions of humans and machines find themselves locked in mortal combat.

Here in 2019, though, we’re doing what we can to disrupt that vision and steer the course away from human-machine antagonism and more toward cooperation. Instead of robot servants plotting to overthrow their meatbag masters, we’re trying to use machines to augment human skills and strengths—especially in the context of manufacturing, which is the place where we’re most likely to see robots. The rapid push to update manufacturing methods to more smartly integrate human with machine isn’t necessarily as big a deal as the original Industrial Revolution, but it is a big enough deal that analysts have coined a snappy phrase for what we’re going through: “Industry 4.0.”

Sometimes the man-machine enhancements are physical, and sometimes they’re mental. Sometimes it’s a Venn diagram that includes both aspects, as a skilled human worker collaborates with robotics and AI to complete a task.

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