The UK government has launched a massive research programme dedicated to making autonomous systems safe and trustworthy. 


With a £34 million investment fund, it’s hoped the scheme will move the UK closer to developing ‘care robots’ capable of providing medical support and care. 

It follows investment in a Bristol-based project that’s developed a robot called CHIRON, designed to support older adults with mobility and ageing-related impairments. 


The programme has also ignited fresh debate surrounding how big an impact robots will have on the future of jobs in the UK. 


Robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and smart automation are already affecting traditional human roles and, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), they have the potential to bring great economic benefits – contributing up to $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030. 


While there are fears this could displace existing jobs, PwC says the extra wealth will also generate a demand for new jobs. 


It analysed the tasks involved in 200,000 jobs in 29 countries to assess what the potential for automation may be over the next 20 years. By the mid-2030s, it estimates up to 30% of jobs could be automatable.  


A report from the World Economic Forum, meanwhile, has predicted robots will displace 75 million jobs globally by 2022 but, crucially, create 133 million new ones. 


It says advances in computing will free workers for new tasks, while robots and software algorithms have the potential to improve the productivity of existing jobs and lead to new roles. 

These will include software developers, data analysts and social media specialists, as well as positions that rely on purely human traits – such as teachers, customer service agents, sales people and marketing pros. 


This focus on new jobs is part of what’s been billed as the fourth industrial revolution – and the UK is committed to becoming a world leader. Many companies have already introduced ‘smart factory’ operations, using everything from robots and radio-frequency identification to AI systems and wearable tech, including smart watches, wristbands and VR headsets. 


Despite this, there is a growing demand for skilled human operatives. This was recently backed up by the chief robotics technologist at Amazon. Despite deploying more than 200,000 robots in 50 warehouses, Tye Brady said the idea of robotics and AI replacing humans is a myth. He added: “The way I think about this is a symphony of humans and machines working together. You need both. 


“You extend human capability. And when you gain productivity, then you have the ability to create new jobs that were unimaginable five years ago.” 


According to Tye, since Amazon invested heavily in robotics in 2012, it has created more than 300,000 jobs.  


This reflects the fact automation has the potential to make manufacturing, production and distribution boom sectors, where new tech allows humans to work smarter not harder. 


Here in the UK mobile computing devices can pinpoint which stage production has reached and generate real-time inventory updates, keeping everyone, from production operatives to factory managers, in the loop. 


And with the Internet of Things linking every stage of manufacturing – from production and warehousing to shipping and receiving – greater insights are gained into what works and what doesn’t. 


All of the data collected can ultimately be used to increase productivity and efficiency.  

In this way, rather than killing jobs, technology creates new opportunities. 


Automation is also impacting other job sectors, such as financial services, where innovation is being embraced. In fact, Wales has become a FinTech powerhouse with the fastest growing digital economy outside London, turning over £1 billion and with 3600 companies employing around 45,000 workers. 


In the world of IT, the UK – and, in particular, London – is seizing the chance to be at the centre of the AI revolution by upskilling and retraining existing talent. 


Engineers are also benefitting from emerging technology, especially in the renewable energy sector. Innovations developed by scientists include fully autonomous robots that can inspect wind farms – walking, diving, flying and even thinking for themselves. 


The drones have been developed by The Orca Hub, part of the government’s £93 million R&D funding for robotics and AI for extreme environments. 

It’s not about putting people out of work but taking them out of harm’s way. And, while the robots will be busy offshore, there will still be workers onshore analysing the data. 


Many call and contact centres are also using cutting-edge software yet support that all-important human interface over full automation. 


In the world of retail, managers and shop assistants are embracing AI to support their own work – from self-checkout systems and monitoring shopping patterns to using data to enhance their customers’ in-store experience. 


In healthcare, too, AI is making breakthroughs that work in tandem with human roles, with apps freeing up time for doctors and nurses and innovations such as retinal scanning allowing faster diagnoses and treatments. 


If you’d like to find opportunities to work in this new industrial revolution, why not visit x1jobs for all the latest vacancies?