LG robots to replace workers in South Korean hotels, airports and supermarkets
Up to 800 million workers could be affected globally by automation and the rise of artificial intelligence
By Saheli Roy Choudhury
A Korean tech giant on Thursday announced new robots that take aim squarely at the jobs of many services industry workers around the globe.
There have long been predictions that advances in artificial intelligence and automation could end up eliminating millions of jobs over time, and tech companies have been testing robots to carry out a variety of tasks – from working in a pizza parlour to making deliveries that could greatly affect the services industry in the future.
For its part, South Korean giant LG Electronics is the latest company that is planning to sell robots to solve tasks currently completed by humans.
On Thursday, LG said it will showcase three new “concept robots” at the global consumer electronics show, CES, in Las Vegas next week. Those robots are designed for commercial use at hotels, airports and supermarkets, according to the company.
The first one is a server robot that can deliver food and drinks to customers at hotels and airport lounges. It can essentially replace the work done by the waitstaff and be able to do it around the clock.
Second is a porter robot that can handle check-in and checkout services at hotels and carry luggage to rooms. The hotel industry is already experimenting with replacing humans with machines. For example, there are hotels in Japan that are staffed by robots.
Finally, LG’s third new robot is made to work with customers at a supermarket, telling them the price of products and then guiding them through the aisles.
If popularised, such technologies would likely be bad news for many of those working in the services industry.
The International Labour Organisation said as of May that nearly 50 per cent of the global workforce is employed by the services sector. That includes trade, transport, accommodation, food and other administrative and business services.
Meanwhile, a report released by McKinsey & Company last November suggested that by 2030, as many as 800 million workers globally could be replaced by robots. Even if automation adoption is slower, as many as 400 million people could still be affected, the report said.
This is not the first time that technological developments are displacing labour markets. In the manufacturing sector, for example, companies introduced conveyor belts and assembly lines at factories in the early 20th Century that brought down labour costs and temporarily put people out of work.
According to McKinsey, new technologies often create more jobs than they destroy, sometimes in areas that “cannot be envisioned at the outset.” To do that, displaced workers need to acquire new skills.
But not everyone is convinced by the argument that automation will create enough new jobs – especially to service and programme AI and robots. The former president of Google China told CNBC in November that robots are “clearly replacing people jobs. They’re working 24 by 7. They are more efficient. They need some programming. But one programmer can programme 10,000 robots.”
– CNBC’s Matthew J. Belvedere contributed to this report.