As Industry 4.0 technology becomes smarter and more widely available, manufacturers of any size will be able to deploy cost-effective, multipurpose and collaborative machines as standard. This will lead to industrial growth and market competitiveness, with a greater understanding of production processes leading to new high-quality products and digital services.
Exactly what impact a smarter robotic workforce with the potential to operate on its own will have on the manufacturing industry, is still widely disputed. Artificial intelligence as we know it from science fiction is still in its infancy. It could well be the 22nd century before robots really have the potential to make human labour obsolete by developing not just deep learning but true artificial understanding that mimics human thinking.
Ideally, Industry 4.0 will enable human workers to achieve more in their jobs by removing repetitive tasks and giving them better robotic tools. In theory, this would allow us humans to focus more on business development, creativity and science, which it would be much harder for any robot to do. Technology that has made humans redundant in the past has forced us to adapt, generally with more education.
But because Industry 4.0 robots will be able to operate largely on their own, we might see much greater human redundancy from manufacturing jobs without other sectors being able to create enough new work. Then we might see more political moves to protect human labour, such as taxing robots.
Again, in an ideal scenario, humans may be able to focus on doing the things that make us human, perhaps fuelled by a basic income generated from robotic work. Ultimately, it will be up to us to define whether the robotic workforce will work for us, with us, or against us.