More than a third of today’s jobs will be taken over by robots over the next two decades, especially in careers that require less education. It sounds scary, but it also means that organizations have two years to develop a symbiotic relationship between humans and robots.

We are seeing that now, to some extent, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), according to technology and security expert Bruce Schneier, who called IoT the “world’s biggest robot.” In his blog Schneier on Security, he notes that the things that make up IoT have two parts. “One part will be sensors that collect data about us and our environment,” he writes. “The other part will be actuators. They'll affect our environment. The Internet of Things will increasingly perform actions for us and in our name.”

That doesn’t mean IoT will always perform actions without us. Researchers are designing robots and using artificial intelligence to collaborate hand-in-hand with humans. 

Industrial versus collaborative

“The Internet of Things will increasingly perform actions for us and in our name.”

The robots that most of us associate with manufacturing and elsewhere in the job sector are industrial robots. Organizations often turn to industrial robots because they want faster and more accurate production than humans can provide. However, industrial robots aren’t ideal in every situation. Low-volume production doesn’t make industrial robots more cost efficient, for example, and they don’t easily adapt to production changes. 

Collaborative robots, or cobots, share a workspace with human employees; humans supply the brain power and the cobots complete the task. As Ryan Guthrie, senior vice president of TM Robotics, pointed out in an Automation World article, cobots are “an ideal first step towards automated processes” and can assist employees to “gain experience and familiarity with robotic systems.” Bringing cobots into the workplace, Guthrie added, can help reduce injury or free employee time for higher value tasks.

Meet the cobots

MIT researchers believe cobots could revolutionize the supply chain. For example, one MIT-developed robot, called YuMi, is able to complete tasks like solving a Rubik’s Cube or assist a person with muscular diseases play a game of chess. MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab is working on robots like Baxter that relies on human brainwaves to solve problems.

These robots aren’t mind readers, and they aren’t going to steal your job. Instead, cobots will empower workers throughout the supply chain to operate in a safer and more efficient environment. A cobot in a hospital setting, for instance, will be able to analyze radiology scans at a much higher rate than a doctor can, possibly finding abnormalities more quickly. However, it will be up to the medical staff to develop a plan of care for the patient. Humans bring creativity and problem solving to the work table; cobots provide the tireless repetition to ensure the task is done correctly each time.

“I like to think of machines and people as working together,” lab director Daniela Rus told CBS News. “Machines doing what they're best at and people doing what they're best at.”