At the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, Andi, Lucky, and Coffee Master emerged as the rising stars. They were no athletes, but robots, who were among the 84 of their kind, used by the organisers for security checks, running errands, and preparing and serving beverages.

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From welding in automobile factories to loading and unloading in warehouses, robots are helping ensure safety, fill in for manpower shortages, make businesses more efficient, and help humans chart new paths. However, they also remind us of the looming question: Whether are robots replacing humans? The answer is yes, and no. According to the World Economic Forum, AI will displace 85 million jobs but create 97 million more by 2025.

Since certain operations can be automated, it is assumed that jobs will be lost in the process, forgetting that technological developments allow for change in the nature and role of a job.

Why are robots sought after?

The USP of Amazon is its short delivery time and free shipping and the retail giant could do this through 2 lakh robots being part of the warehousing process. Whether it is humanoids, autonomous mobile robots, or collaborative robots, their work helps to aid processes and complement the effort of the human workforce.

1. Works in tough environments

Robots can be built to work in dusty, hot environments, built to handle tonnes of weight. So, they can take over tasks from manual workers in the manufacturing industry, for example, when the work involves the use of fire or carrying heavy loads. This can reduce injuries and accidents and ensure better working conditions for employees who can supervise the robots.

2. Getting more done with less

Whether it is working after hours or in the dark, robots can be programmed to work overnight with minimal energy such as lights. In times of tight deadlines, the ability of robots to complete a task without a minute’s distraction is what companies want to tap into. Experts estimate that productivity is up by at least 200% because of warehouse robots.

3. Closing the staff shortage gap

Whether it’s the unavailability of manpower at a remote construction site in the Australian outback or dealing with the healthcare staffing shortage, where more than one in five Canadian nurses worked overtime shifts, AI-powered robots can replace some of the tasks. In first-world countries, an aging workforce is driving the adoption of robots in the workforce.

4. Leaps in technology

The pace at which free-roaming robots with capacity for vision and powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning are developing, this technology won’t just be the arena of the elite. For instance, Elon Musk unveiled the humanoid robot Optimus in October that he plans to push it into households at a price of less than $20,000.

Not without the better half

While technology can bring efficiency and enhance customer experience, it cannot be without the human mind. In 2018, a fatal accident with an autonomous Uber vehicle changed the course of Uber’s approach to autonomous cars with the company selling off its self-driving unit after investing $1 billion in it. Soon, its rival Lyft followed suit. While the pursuit of driverless cars and autonomous machines is still on, the intervention or monitoring of humans is yet to be ruled out. So where are robots getting stuck and why do humans still have an edge?

· Unable to improvise – Robots thrive in routine and work in specific environments that they are built for. Take for example the issue of cleaning robots not being able to adapt to surfaces that are not smooth polished concrete and shop floors that do not have clear, wide aisles, says officials at Schnuck Markets, which runs 112 supermarkets in the U.S.

· Limited hand-eye coordination – Seemingly easy tasks like walking into a room, identifying an object from several others and picking it up is complex work for robots. DHL Logistics’ Stretch robot trained to unload trucks can only operate when the boxes are of uniform size, of a certain weight, and stacked directly on the floor.

· Lack of emotional intelligence – Pace with precision is the gift of machines. A singular value that they do not have is emotional intelligence. Though chatbots are being used to connect with customers for the first time, a human voice is what is crucial for any deal to come through. An example is the use of mental health chatbots. When BBC reporters tried to check how chatbots could come into use for treatment, they found that the chatbots had failed to recognise sexual abuse.

Reskilling to keep up with the times

Despite the hiccups, the expansion of the robotics market is undeniable with the number of service robots installed annually worldwide increasing by 37% in 2021, and the market for industrial robots in China doubling during the same period. In such a situation, companies need to train their employees in skills that keep them ahead of technology. Creativity, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, strong communication skills, and emotional intelligence are the qualities that machines still can’t be taught. True that blue-collar jobs are likely to be replaced sooner, but initiatives to upgrade the skills of humans will ensure better-paying jobs.

The World Economic Forum report shows that by 2025, 50% employees need to be reskilled. Amazon, one of the most automated companies, has already taken a step towards that goal by announcing a voluntary programme called Upskilling 2025. The need for an easier future transition is to view the collaboration of humans and robots as complementary rather than competitive.