Will robots replace humans?
Journal des Sociétés : Interview with Franck Gayraud, CEO.
Journal Spécial des Sociétés: Would you please introduce yourself and tell us about the Arcure company?
After engineering school (majoring in embedded computing), I started a career in industry with positions as a programmer, project manager and program director, notably in the aerospace and defence sectors. It was at this time that I met Patrick Mansuy with whom I co-founded the Arcure company in 2009. Arcure supplies industrials with smart sensors that help machines better understand and interpret their environment.
JSS: The products that you provide to your clients are designed to help machines better understand and interpret their environment. How does that work in practical terms?
Arcure markets an intelligent camera which has the ability to recognise a person and designed to help prevent accidents between pedestrians and mobile machinery in factories and at work sites: It is the only system on the market able to distinguish between a person and any other object thanks to its patented image processing technology. Today, we work with major groups in France, like Areva, Colas, EDF, Vinci and Veolia, as well as companies abroad (Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Chile, etc.).
JSS: Do you really believe like Frey & Osborne in The Future of Employment that “47% of today’s professions are at risk of being taken over by smart machines”?
Yes, that is inevitable, perhaps in even greater proportions; it is simply the march of technical progress at work. At the same time, we should not simply assert this without explaining that all the jobs that disappear will be replaced by new ones. This phenomenon has been observed and quantified since the beginning of the Industrial era. Ensuring increased productivity every year, this phenomenon ultimately benefits every citizen as witnessed by the ever-improving standard of living.
JSS: According to the article published by these same authors, it is especially jobs in the production and logistics fields that will be replaced – between 80-100% – by machines. These professions do not often require a high level of qualification. Are those people who have little educational experience not right to worry about their future? How can they retrain for another job?
Yes, the low-skilled professions are the most affected in the competition with robotics. That said, even highly-skilled professionals like lawyers or radiologists are also at threat, not because their jobs will disappear but because they will undergo profound changes. In fact, it is going to be essential that every profession learn to work with robots and Artificial Intelligence. This training will be made available to all, however, by those working in computerisation since the economy really needs everyone to be working. I would note as well that, today in France, there are more than one million jobs unfilled; there is therefore no lack of work. The new professions are less tiring but more stressful.
JSS: How can companies adapt to this new digital era of artificial intelligence? From a productivity point of view, should they decide to focus on machines rather than humans?
Yes, companies will systematically choose machines over humans once they become more productive. It is imperative that companies adapt to the digital era. We note that many companies have not taken full advantage of the computerisation of the past 20 or more years. They must do several things to adapt: first of all, top-level and middle management must remain abreast of the latest developments in the field. They must constantly call into question their strategy, processes and organisation in order to capitalise on technological progress. Then, ongoing training throughout their lives should be in their genes. Finally, working together with machines is a source of stress. It is therefore vital for all organisations to invest in in-depth training aimed at ensuring the well-being of each worker through personal development. The techniques are well-documented now (Yoga, Meditation, Emotional Intelligence, Sports, etc.); I consider a manager who does not take this into account to be at fault.
JSS: Robots today are more and more intelligent and autonomous. And, according to the experts, we will see their capabilities increase in the upcoming years. With this in mind, do you believe that the robotics field is without limits?
Electronic connections are a million times faster than biochemical connections. We can thus confirm that, yes, robotics theoretically has no limits. It is Man who will decide the limits over time, either through regulations or through revolt.
JSS: The robotics field raises many ethical questions (What degree of autonomy and freedom should robots be given? Does this technology not threaten our privacy? And others…). What do you think of current regulations in the robotics field? In your opinion, are we adequately prepared to face up to these issues?
Yes, robotics does pose many ethical questions and technology does not only threaten our privacy but also represents a source of alienation that could be harmful to us as a species in a relatively short period of time. Movies and literature have done an excellent job of showing us the possible consequences. Despite all this, however, we are absolutely not prepared to face these problems, and here I am only quoting certain leaders in the field like Bill Gates or Stephen Hawking. As stakeholders in this industry, we have a duty to think about the consequences of what we are doing. On the other hand, policy makers are duty-bound to examine the stakes and to propose safeguards, based on simple principles, at the global level. To face up to these challenges, the worst would be to rely on self-regulation or to let the lobby of private stakeholders or major multinationals like the GAFA run wild. It is vital to make sure that authorities in charge of the public well-being (Nations and international organisations) maintain power over these private interests. That is a serious risk nowadays.
Interview Journal Spécial des Sociétés