Canon Camera Factory To Go Fully Automated, Phase Out Human Workers

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Camera factory workers at Canon are scheduled to be replaced by robots in the near future.

In the second Star Wars prequel, Attack Of The Clones, C3PO walks into a droid factory and exclaims, "Machines building machines? How perverse!" Although it may be an abomination to a fictional robot, for the Japanese camera maker Canon, a fully automated factory is good business sense.

Recently, the company announced that over the next few years, some of its camera factories will phase out human workers in an effort to reduce costs. That means robots will soon be making the next generation of cameras, possibly as soon as 2015.

In an effort to convince the public that this move doesn't mean layoffs at Canon, the company's spokesman Jun Misumi said, "When machines become more sophisticated, human beings can be transferred to do new kinds of work," according to the Associated Press.

Even for Japan, globalization has led to exporting manufacturing jobs to countries where labor costs are lower, like China and India. So this announcement is a validation that robots are cheaper than humans for a manufacturing company, as long as the robotics technology is sophisticated enough to mimic human actions.

Data from 2008 showed Japan was clearly in the lead in terms of industrial robot use.

Fortunately, Japan has become one of the leaders in robotics development, so Canon is confident that it can achieve full automation of at least some factories, perhaps by taking some of the more exotic robots that have been developed and learning to make them more practical, as was done a few years ago with a strawberry-picking robot.

When companies like Canon and others around the world venture into more automated workforces, concerns arise quickly about human job loss. But Misumi has a point about how human beings should be doing new kinds of work.

Take, for instance, this video of young non-robotic workers packing playing cards into unfolded boxes and ask yourself, "Is this the only contribution to society these individuals have to offer?":

Amidst the growing pains of societies across the globe adjusting to robots replacing humans in factories, the reality is that manual labor jobs will be, and arguably, should be done by robots, allowing people to explore the new kinds of work that Misumi alludes to. What is this work? It's not entirely clear yet, but it certainly has the potential to draw on a much fuller set of an individual's talents than before.

[Media: IEEEVideomaker, YouTube]

[Source: Time]

David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 10 Responses

  • Frank Whittemore June 6, 2012 on 8:26 am

    For more on “How Computers Are Creating a Second Economy Without Workers” click on the link below –

  • Gorgand Grandor June 6, 2012 on 5:39 pm

    Ultimately, a fully automated economy would be a good thing, because we can support humans on a machine backbone and finally give humans freedom. However, getting there might be difficult. We need to get to the point where people don’t need to work in order to survive, whereas right now they still need to work, yet they are being pushed out by robots, and yet still we haven’t automated the economy enough to avoid some poor guy picking up the labor.

    • Jeruulv Gorgand Grandor December 28, 2012 on 5:20 pm

      Just a little problem, if company wants to be an automated, where the people go?

  • Ivan Malagurski June 6, 2012 on 8:58 pm

    It was always just a matter of time…

    • David J. Hill Ivan Malagurski June 6, 2012 on 9:10 pm

      agreed. and how soon will it be before stories like this are so common they aren’t news?

      • Frank Whittemore David J. Hill June 7, 2012 on 6:05 am


        They will be news for a very long time – until all the political consequences have been solved involving the human unemployment caused by the robots.

        Just imagine how long it will take this to play out in Washington and what about the rest of the World?

        • David J. Hill Frank Whittemore June 8, 2012 on 7:35 am

          true, the implications are pretty far reaching. the technological hurdles will be overcome long before the sociological ones are.

      • Herbys David J. Hill June 9, 2012 on 1:16 am

        And how long before the machines are the ones making the decision to replace people with robots?

  • Fons Jena June 7, 2012 on 12:54 am

    Nice work Canon. Unfortunately replacing human workers with robots still sounds bad to most people. They always say ‘what about those people?’ and that worries me. OK Canon will relocate those workers but they shouldn’t.

    The world population needs to go down to an optimal population (around the 2 billion mark). This automation of work comes like a present from heaven because while we reduce our offspring these robots can gradually take over our work. As less people will exist less goods need to be produced.

    Nature will be happy because less people get born and humans get happier because we get more space/freedom. A win-win situation.

  • conceptdestiny June 7, 2012 on 3:08 am

    “Recently, the company announced that over the next few years, some of its camera factories will phase out human workers in an effort to reduce costs.”

    So tell me… how would taking on machines to replace labour, but keep the human work force and shift them to another sector reduce costs? That company would have to pay the same employees, plus costs for the setting up and maintenance of the machines. Sounds like a contradiction of business to me.

    You’ll find single workers are tasked with monitoring several machines, each of which can do the job of, say, 10 employees.

    This article is seeping with technological unemployment. The idea of luddite fallacy is out-dated.