AI News, Foxconn To Replace Human Workers With One Million Robots

Foxconn To Replace Human Workers With One Million Robots

Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer from Taiwan with huge factories in China, generates about 40 percent of the global consumer electronics revenue by creating things like iPhones and computer components on giant assembly lines staffed by humans.

Foxconn employs something like 1.2 million people, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that one robot could probably work as efficiently as 1.2 humans, especially considering that the robot can be less productive (even substantially less productive) if it just works more hours than a single human is capable of.

I'm not suggesting that Foxconn is considering replacing the entirety of its production line -- which by the way will keep expanding at a furious pace -- with robots, but when you think about how much they spend providing food and housing for their human workers as well as the recent suicides, you can sort of see where their train of thought is heading here: This could be a shift from 'mostly human' to 'mostly robot,' with about a million jobs in the balance.

iPhone manufacturer Foxconn plans to replace almost every human worker with robots

Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturing giant behind Apple’s iPhone and numerous other major electronics devices, aims to automate away a vast majority of its human employees, according to a report from DigiTimes.

Dai Jia-peng, the general manager of Foxconn’s automation committee, says the company has a three-phase plan in place to automate its Chinese factories using software and in-house robotics units, known as Foxbots.

The third and final phase involves automating entire factories, “with only a minimal number of workers assigned for production, logistics, testing, and inspection processes,” according to Jia-peng.

It’s also difficult, expensive, and time consuming to program robots to perform multiple tasks, or to reprogram a robot to perform tasks outside its original function.

In an in-depth report published yesterday, The New York Times detailed these government incentivizes for Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, its largest and most capable plant that produces 500,000 iPhones a day and is known locally as “iPhone City.” According to Foxconn’s Jia-peng, the Zhengzhou factory has some production lines already at the second automation phase and on track to become fully automated in a few years’ time.

1 Million Robots To Replace 1 Million Human Jobs At Foxconn? First Robots Have Arrived.

Foxconn, the Chinese electronics manufacturer that builds numerous mobile devices and gaming consoles, has been in the media lately because of labor issues, complaints over working conditions, rumored riots, and even suicides, all occurring in the past few years as demand for smartphones and tablets is skyrocketing.

While consumers began to complain in response to media coverage over working conditions, prompting Apple to hire an audit of the factories, Foxconn’s President Terry Gou had another idea for dealing with labor concerns: replace people with robots.

But one look at the photo of the robot and it’s clear this isn’t just a simple machine, but a similar type of robotic arm to those used in assembly lines of automotive manufacturers.

As we reported back in April, you can see for yourself what conditions appear to be like: According to a translated page from the Chinese site Techweb, each robot costs between $20,000 to $25,000, which is over three times the average salary of one worker.

While there are those who worry that the rise of robots will bring about the end of work as we know it, others see the Foxconn working conditions as violating human rights, and therefore, might welcome robotic replacements, if it means that conditions for the remaining human workforce could improve.

An important statistic from the International Federation of Robotics is that the number of operational robots in China increased by 42 percent from 2010 to 2011 (close to 75,000 robots), an unprecedented growth in the 50-year history of robots.

Apple Manufacturer Foxconn to Fully Replace Humans With Robots

and Zhengzhou, northern China, are already in the second or third phase of this longterm automation plan, and at least 10 fully automated production lines are already in place at some of those factories.

While robots may be a more cost-effective option in the longterm, a company must be ready to shell out a sizable initial investment to begin the transition to automation, and while robotic technology continues to improve, bots aren’t likely to put everyone out of work.

As Dai noted, “Industrial robots will not be able to completely replace workers because humans have the flexibility to quickly switch from one task to another.” Reprograming a robot to perform multiple tasks or even a single new one is just too time-consuming and expensive.

Thankfully, many experts are already proposing ways to mitigate the changes, such as universal basic income (UBI) or increased job training, so by the time the robots do take over these jobs, hopefully a solid plan will be in place to support those displaced workers.

The government shares and actively pursues its vision of ‘Replacing Humans with Robots’ with mega-corporations, as it seeks to squeeze out low-end industries (plastics, toys, furniture, garments and the like), while offering subsidies and bank loans to higher value industries like electronics, automobiles, infotech and biotech.

After reaching 100,000 employees in 2003, Foxconn expanded by leaps and bounds to more than 700,000 in 2008 and proved resilient during the global economic downturn, continuing to expand its global labour force, which reached a million in 2011 and 1.3 million in 2012.

When it replaced 60,000 workers with robots in one factory, Foxconn boasted to the BBC that it is aligning itself with Beijing leaders who seek to upgrade the technological levels of Chinese workers: ‘We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees;

and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control.’ But technical skills training for a few aside, the majority of Foxconn workers continue to toil day and night with slim prospect of upgrading.

With long-term collaboration with Tsinghua University, by the end of 2016, Foxconn had registered 79,600 patents in cutting-edge areas of heat transfer, optical coating technology, electrical machinery, semi-conductor equipment and mobile computing services.1It has risen from being an electronics contractor to a robot producer.

His ambitions for the company extend far beyond low-margin manufacturing into smart cars, big data technology, medical and healthcare electronics, automotive battery technology, telecommunications services and retail e-businesses.

someone plunged to the ground — Xu Lizhi, 9 January 2014 Apple, for whom Foxconn is the biggest supplier, claims that it is dedicated to ‘educating and empowering supplier employees’, and highlights that ‘every workday should include opportunity and enrichment’.

The official goal of China’s Ministry of Education for 2020 is to recruit 23.5 million students – that is, 50 per cent of the nation’s senior secondary student population – into three-year vocational programmes.

When the government mandatory internship programme is manipulated by profit-maximizing companies (and their global buyers) as ‘a vehicle for channeling youths into the precariat’,3the robotic future of China and the world will lead to an undesirable place.

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