back to article Industrial robots make people feel worse about jobs and themselves

Robots may make companies more productive, as some studies have suggested, but they make people feel that their jobs have less meaning. Researchers with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Colorado State University in the US recently looked into the impact of robotic automation on workers' sense of well-being …

  1. Captain Hogwash

    "can reduce human interactions"

    Where do I sign?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: "can reduce human interactions"

      Where do I sign?

      Well, reducing interactions is rather simple. For starters, stop visiting and posting on this forum?

      1. Captain Hogwash

        Re: "can reduce human interactions"

        Oh what a wag. I was probably wrong but I assumed in-person human interactions was implied.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "can reduce human interactions"

      Hey I'm Clippy. You seem to be writing a post about not wanting human interaction. I'm not quite human. What can I do to help???

  2. Zibob Bronze badge

    No shot, really?

    Who would have thunk it.

    Being tasked with installing and maintaining the machine that took your job would be unfulfilling.

    From able bodied worker, to just an assistant to a machine. Knowing you will be replaced and another person will carrying on in your place if you can't serve the machine well enough.

    And it's a wonder why depression and suicide are increasing.

  3. JavaJester

    I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can do that

    Of course, they are depressed / lack fulfillment/ etc. The more of their job the robot can do, the more likely they are to be shown the door. This problem can be solved by making robot maintenance training available during normal work time.

  4. thames

    The study would probably be better entitled "how to ask a group of people to fill out surveys about opinions on vague and waffly concepts and then torture the resulting data until some very tiny result emerges".

  5. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

    Everybody panic!

    "Specifically, doubling the presence of robots leads to a 0.9 percent decline in work meaningfulness and a 1 percent decline in autonomy."

    Well, those results definitely seem meaningful and significant. I'm off to grab the sledgehammer and teach those bloody machines a thing or two!

    1. Bebu Silver badge

      Re: Everybody panic!

      "Specifically, doubling the presence of robots leads to a 0.9 percent decline in work meaningfulness and a 1 percent decline in autonomy."

      I was wondering that too?

      If you doubled the input into an inverting op amp and got a 0.009 decrease in the output you would be looking for a loose wire (but here I think a loose screw more likely. :)

      What was the p value for the null hypothesis ie result purely due to chance? .991?

      I hadn't considered the application of LLM AI to controlling machines like multi-purpose, multi-function "robots." I can see the abillity to rapidly "reprogram" the machines ("robots") on a production line is the start of software designed manufacturing. From design to product automated. Rapid reprogramming potentially makes even small runs economic.

      While deeply sceptical of AI/LLM in general, I can see that in well defined, constrained domains you can train models to perform generic tasks like drilling holes, inserting screws or bolts and tightening nuts, spot and continuous welding etc which in turn form a higher level repertoire which the upstream processes can use to instruct these machines. Such machines having a limited model of physical reality, and a logical inference engine, would not insert a M9 bolt into a M6 hole.

      There is big difference between a Jacquard loom (punched cards) and a machine that can determine you cannot use the intricate pattern from silk weaving with wool (say.) [I wouldn't know the difference between warp and weft so might be a poor example.]

  6. HuBo

    One way system (to nowhere?)

    Well, damn Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard and his 1801 programmable mechanical loom (showcased at Maison du Textile just North of here; ancestor to contemporary programmable computers and robots) -- he automated textile weaving under Napoleon (after the 1789 French Revolution), leading to the "Canut revolts" (first organised worker uprisings of the Industrial Revolution, 1831-1848). We know at least since then that replacing humans with robots can have serious consequences, a point also made clear, cinematographically, particularly for the associated loss of meaning in work, by Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" (eg. the assembly line scene). I think that those could have been referenced in the Nikolova, Cnossen, and Nikolaev paper (for perspective).

    "robots make workers feel worse – unless they control the robots"

    Right on! And as we transition from relatively dumb robots doing physical stuff to more flexible ones attempting "intellectual" activities (eg. media generation, comms, liberal arts), we can expect the "feeling worse" part of things to intensify, pretty much how we've seen Blake Lemoine and Alex Albert recently believe that LLMs were sentient and self-aware (not to mention Altman's raving lunacy about superintelligence). Current entries of the AI Incident Database clearly illustrate how algorithm-controlled robots can cause serious physical harm to humans. The thymic toll (meaningfulness, autonomy, mood, mental health) studied by Nikolova et al. should definitely be added to that DB IMHO. As more "intellectual" AI gets increasingly disseminated, one can only expect such incidents to increase correspondingly (invest in straitjacket stocks!).

    And if you're in the mood ... Decontrol!

  7. xyz123 Silver badge

    "I felt bad about robots taking away some of my jobs, until they invented the wank-a-tronic 3000, and now I don't have to jerk off film directors to get roles anymore" - Megan Fox

  8. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Speaking as a

    robot wrangler.

    Bring them on !

    If I program the robot to extract the part from the machine tool and wave it in front of the laser measurer I get 100% of parts measured (and maybe a few right).... with a squishy human I get 100% for the first hour, 90% for the 2nd hour, 50% with the 3rd hour and about 10 for the rest of the day.

    Plus all the time the robots wrangling the machine it leaves me time to program up the next robot/drink coffee/plot revenge on the PFY for putting salt in my coffee (I'm old school and used to cigarette butts in my coffee)

    But it just brings on a more serious point.

    Just what do the workers replaced by the robots do?

    1. My-Handle

      Re: Speaking as a

      From your previous tales of your PFY, salt in your coffee sounds positively mundane. I was expecting laxative, some form of biological warfare, superglue on the mug handle or at the very least decaf. Is she feeling ok?

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Re: Speaking as a

        I fear not.... she had a meeting with the vicar doing her wedding, according to 'lunk' (her finacee) she hissed and swore when she had to go into the church....

        I fear I may have corrupted her too far.....

  9. Alex 72

    So once again philosophers, mathematicians, software developers and electrical engineers working at the nanometer scale in large companies R&D and academia have developed tools. Literature has been published which explains the possibility of decades or centuries of gradual improvement if they are adopted and refined slowly and carefully ensuring for example the sheet metal workers and technical authors whose jobs are automated to some degree get input in the design and that those retained in the industry get a sense of control so the workplace can be more productive and better for workers. As well as ensuring that each stage actually achieves its aims starting out with pilot projects and experiments and only moving on when consensus is reached that there is benefit and no harm is done.

    No one reads this stuff too long and too boring. There is one report that says you can do it in 5 years (during the life of your bonus structure if your in the C-suite) and a few companies decided to follow meta to "move fast and break things". Now that's what Wall street expects and everyone knows they never get it wrong, look at the .com bubble, a perfect and restrained motivator of careful and considered economic activity is that market and all the better in a new unregulated space.

  10. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

    I tried really hard to find Esther Pigeon quotes about statistics of Exotic Ices sales in the two target areas the computer had selected as surveyed by David & Tony, alas the comments about where they could stick their Exotic Ices evaded me...

    Apparently there is an opening at Amalgamated Aerosols as head of sales for a new range of exotic fragrances I might try for.

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "What the authors found is that robots make workers feel worse – unless they control the robots"

    We could have told them that a long time back -- ever since henry Ford. The production line dehumanises because it's in control, not you.

  12. Groo The Wanderer Silver badge

    Of course job satisfaction goes down - you no longer DO anything but babysit a machine...

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