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Will technology put humans out of work?

Posted: 28 Jan 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:automation? technological advancements? Ecodesign Directive?

Should people believe the YouTube video posted by CGP Grey, humans will soon have something common with horses: obsoletion in the workplace.

The 15-minute video, entitled Humans need not apply, has received 3.5 million views since August 2014 and puts forward the case that advances in technology are inevitably going to make people in all runs of working lifeunskilled, skilled, professional and creativeobsolete.

This is a pretty damming vision of a dystopian future that even H. G. Wells would be proud of. It's also incredibly unlikely to happen in the mass way the video suggests. Although there is no factual evidence for technological unemployment, CGP Grey is correct in the statement that we are living in a period of rapid technological advancements. This also brings with it the frustrating situation where a lot of perfectly functional products become obsolete relatively quickly.

The automation obituaries

In the world of industrial automation, one reason for products becoming obsolete is changing legislation. A recent example is the Ecodesign Directive, which sets mandatory efficiency requirements for electrical products. This way, industrial automation parts that fail to meet environmental standards are gradually phased out.

From January 1, 2015, in accordance with the second phase of the Ecodesign Directive, motors rated from 7.5kW to 375kW will either have to be replaced with IE3 efficiency level models, or meet the previous IE2 level and be fitted with a variable speed drive (VSD). This means that motors that fail to meet IE3 standards at this moment in time must be retrofitted with an appropriate VSD or face the bin of obsoletion.

Another reason why products become obsolete is functionality. More universally (pun to follow), the common USB (universal serial bus) cable will soon become obsolete with the introduction of the Type-C connector. This new connector will negate the infamous three turn technique many of us have become so accustomed to when trying to plug in the cable. The new Type-C is reversible and equipped with USB 3.1 specifications, which means a more powerful and faster delivery system.

More common in businesses with embedded systems is the use of specific industrial portable memory. As well as being safer than USBs, which are the most common way of transferring viruses, specific industrial memory is bespoke and so will never become obsolete.

Finally, another scenario in which industrial automation parts go out of date is when the original equipment manufacturer stops producing them for one reason or another. In 1986, GE Fanuc Automation Corporation was jointly established in the United States by the two giantsGeneral Electric and FANUC. This company was successful in supplying automation solutions until 2009 when the two firms agreed to dissolve the joint venture.

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