Cambridge bot robot

Robots get a bad rap. Hollywood hasn’t done much to quench our fears about these new technologies and their potential to hasten our impending doom – movies tend to show them either enslaving or eradicating the human race. And even when they’re not being portrayed on screen as our mortal enemies, robots feature in scaremongering headlines, blamed for imminent mass job losses.

The reality, though, is somewhat less threatening. At least, according to a new report published today by the World Economic Forum. While the WEF admits 75 million jobs could be ‘stolen’ by robots over the next four years, it also says 133 million will be created in their place as the global workforce adopts new technologies, including robots and AI.

The findings give further clout to those in the automation industry who claim embracing robots in our factories and fields will actually lead to a far more skilled workforce in the future. In fact, as The Grocer revealed in the second of its series on automation, robots are already alleviating workers of more mundane, arduous tasks such as fruit picking or sorting coffee beans by quality, allowing them to undertake more skilled tasks instead. So, while the WEF expects the number of job adverts calling for factory workers or stock-keeping clerks to plummet, positions for data analysts and software developers will surge.

10 robotic farmers working around the globe

It’s a similar story in retail. M&S recently announced it would be replacing its call centre staff with AI technologies, but insisted employees would be reassigned to other roles within its stores. And Ocado – as much a tech company as a retailer, lauded for its state-of-the-art automated warehouse – says it has created 650 jobs this financial year alone as a result of embracing automation, with more to come. These are plenty more examples too of new technologies being used to increase productivity without prompting mass job cuts, many of which The Grocer will be highlighting in the next instalments of our look at AI and automation in the UK food and drink sector.

The fact is with the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ in full swing, companies have little choice but to embrace AI and automation to stay ahead. As with industrial revolutions of the past, the shape, size and skills of our workforce will change and adapt, and food and drink needs to overcome its fears and stop thinking of robots as the bad guys.