AI should help people to be able to do physical work for longer. While this may sound frightening at first, the impact of artificial intelligence on the physical world of work could be quite positive.

“AI destroys jobs” or “Artificial intelligence is a career killer”: Current headlines paint a bleak picture of the future. For example, up to eight million workers in the UK could lose their jobs once AI can take over the relevant tasks.

However, as with almost all bad news in the debate about the influence of artificial intelligence on the world of work, there is also a downside. A company in Cambridgeshire, England, is using the technology to extend the working lives of people who perform physical tasks.

AI at work: Should people work longer?

As the BBC According to reports, German Autowerks, a repair shop specializing in German cars, has invested in technology to protect employees from workplace injuries. The reason: Some people are forced to give up their job early. The job of mechanics in particular can be very strenuous for the body.

A lot of bending, lifting and stretching, as well as working under vehicles, can damage the muscles and skeleton and cause pain in the back and joints. This would already affect 473,000 workers in the UK between 2022 and 2023. German Autowerks wants to prevent this with the new process.

How does artificial intelligence help with physical work?

First, the mechanics and technicians are filmed at work. An AI then analyzes the video and identifies pressure points and potential problem areas on the body. The company then uses the information to order special exoskeletons that employees can wear at work.

These are motorized belts that are intended to relieve the body during physical activities. “After a few minutes, it's like wearing clothes,” says John McGaughey, a technician at German Autowerks. “You don’t even notice she’s there.”

The company Stanley Handling from Hertfordshire provides the corresponding AI technology. It is assumed that corresponding systems will become standard equipment for personal protection in the future, comparable to a protective helmet or a high-visibility vest. AI should help the aging workforce and protect people, Andre Jutel, solution consultant at Stanley Handling, explained to the BBC.

Human work more valuable than AI?

Asked whether such jobs should be automated instead, Jutel replies: “I have seen a £100,000 machine become redundant in a matter of months because it was designed for a specific purpose. People are flexible and adaptable – so we believe it’s better to focus on helping them.”

Artificial intelligence is already being used to support various other professions. This is how doctors use them for diagnosis and treatment. The police also have administrative tasks carried out by AI, thereby relieving the burden on staff. Teachers, in turn, save time when planning lessons.

However, according to studies by the Institute of Public Research (IPPR), AI could still be responsible for job losses in the future. The institute believes that secretarial, customer service and administrative roles are most at risk. This means that the development could particularly affect women.

According to IPPR senior economist Carsten Jung, artificial intelligence will play a role for millions of people. “The government, employers and unions have the opportunity to make important decisions now that will ensure we manage this new technology well.”

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