Can a robot take over your job? How automation is changing the future of work

Our Forerunner automatic future discreetly located on Baldwin Street in Toronto’s busy Kensington Market.

The RC Coffee The Robo Café, which juts out slightly from the brick wall by the sidewalk, claims to be Canada’s first robotic cafe.

In contrast to vending machines that dispense coffee from hand-filled pots, robotic baristas make individual cups of coffee, espresso, latte and more on demand, ready to go. ready in just a moment.

For Jasmine Arnold, visiting Toronto from Providence, RI, iced matcha made at RC Coffee top drinks delivered by vending machine and on par with coffee served at a chain.

While the drinks came to a head, she told Global News the experience was unique if a bit jarring.

“I have mixed feelings about a robot, from a work perspective,” she said, expressing displeasure at what this means for the human bartender’s outlook.

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After trying out drinks poured by the robot itself, Arnold’s partner Eric echoed her thoughts but noted that with the pandemic changing our expectations of where the work can be done from , it seems to be in line with the recent change in work.

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“I think this is where we’re headed as a society,” he said.

Labor force shift due to tight labor market and Pandemic caused by covid-19 is opening the door for faster adoption of automated solutions, but at least one expert is warning that Canada may not be prepared for robot workers to be set up to transform the economy as quickly. any.

Demand for robots in tight labor market

Statistics Canada said on Friday that although Canada about 31,000 jobs lost in JulyThe country’s unemployment rate remains at an all-time low of 4.9% last month. The labor market is even hotter in the US, with the unemployment rate falling to 3.5% in July.

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This tight North American job market is driving interest in automated solutions, said Brad Ford, vice president of business for KioCafé in Canada, which operates RC Coffee.

The company only had one RC Coffee kiosk in Toronto in the fall of 2020, which was commissioned as an “experiment,” he recalls. But over the past two and a half years, it has expanded to five locations across the Greater Toronto Area with three more in the pipeline.

Most storefront locations are in busy neighborhoods, but there’s also a stand-alone RC Coffee kiosk in Toronto General Hospital.

An RC Coffee Robo Cafe kiosk makes fresh drinks in the food court at Toronto General Hospital.


Ford says hospitals, universities and airports are among Kio Cafe’s most concerned customers, as these locations cannot staff their coffee shops fast enough to respond. demand spiked from the pandemic recovery.

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“People used to knock on our door to buy equipment from us, especially in the US, where they couldn’t ask employees to open locations,” he said.

Companies in other sectors are also increasingly adopting automation. In addition to just installing self-checkout systems, grocers like Loblaw and Sobeys are turning to robots to speed completion. The company announced plans in June to open an automated distribution center in GTA as early as 2024.

The Progressive Automation Association said US workplace robot orders rose 40% in the first quarter of 2022. That follows a record 2021 that saw 28% of orders received. driven by the non-automotive sectors.

Pandemic is accelerated in the future automatically

While it’s “accidental” for RC Coffee to offer a touchless experience right during the pandemic, Ford notes that this is also a factor that increases with demand.

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Dan Ciuriak, senior fellow at the International Center for Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont, said the pace of automation has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He points to the 2020 Beijing Olympics (to be held in 2021), as China ramps up the development of contactless services to reduce the chances of COVID transmission, as a hint of what to expect. after the pandemic.

“This is exactly the world we’re entering now.”

Looking at hospitals specifically, Ciuriak says there’s an opportunity to automate more than just the food court.

Amid a widely reported health care worker shortage, more than a fifth of Canadian nurses worked paid shifts in July, Statistics Canada reported Friday. Meanwhile, about 11.2% of nurses took sick leave for part of the week when the workforce survey was conducted.

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Ontario’s healthcare system faces staffing shortages

Ontario’s healthcare system faces staffing shortages

Ciuriak says there is an opportunity for increasingly intelligent robots to assist or even replace some nursing jobs as Canada’s aging population threatens to overwhelm an already strained health system.

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“That would be a great benefit and would allow us to really get through this demographic transition,” he said.

This is largely what futurists — including Ciuriak, he notes — have long expected our automated future to look like: robots working side by side with humans, Streamline simple tasks and make us more productive.

But the rise of artificial intelligence is seeing more powerful chips accelerate the pace of automation, he said. Every time a machine surpasses a human in a knowledge-based field, such as Google’s DeepMind AI mastering chess, Ciuriak says we should consider the implications for work we think long ago only for humans.

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“You are seeing the power of these networks expanding dramatically. And that is being reflected in how many AI systems are surpassing human standards. This is a regular phenomenon,” he said.

“We are at the dawn of a new era and that will have major implications for the labor market.”

Jobs in the service sector are risky

Ciuriak says that the service sector in particular is at great risk of disruption, and it’s not just entry-level positions at risk.

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For example, skills one can acquire after years of investing and studying for a law degree, he argues, can be largely replicated – and mass-produced – on a single computer chip in within the next decade.

When these services, often constrained by human limitations, are scaled up through automation, the implications for income generation and distribution will be enormous. The owners of these machines, he argues, will become new hubs for the concentration of wealth, warranting a shift in thinking about how we tax the products of this work.

“We are entering a new kind of economy that we are not prepared to regulate or manage,” says Ciuriak.

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While he doesn’t believe RC Coffee Robo Cafes will replace traditional baristas or the general feel of the local coffee shop, Ford admits some “frontier” jobs could be at risk in the future. our auto.

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However, he argues that machines themselves are “work creators”. Each coffee shop requires an extensive development and maintenance team behind them, and the machines themselves require the same inputs as your typical Starbucks or Tim Hortons.

By enabling more coffee shop locations to open today instead of closing due to staff shortages, Ford argues that java manufacturers can keep their businesses open and keep jobs in the future. the entire coffee supply chain.

“The more we can deploy these and enjoy good coffee out there, I think that’s great for everyone.”

– with files from the Canadian Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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