The focus of this essay is to discuss the impact machines and technology are having in French workplaces, addressing both the changes that have taken place and French society’s reactions to the Information Age. Specifically, the focus will be on how machinery has impacted the retail industry; how artificial intelligence is being used in the translation sector; and how technological advancements are radicalising transport. Whilst discussing the effects of new technological developments, this essay will explore the benefits and disadvantages that these changes will have for French society.
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When Emmanuel Macron became president, he wanted France to ‘think and move like a start-up’ (Wilkins. C, 2018), suggesting that France should start thinking like a new business and engaging with what the country needs to develop in order to increase its economy in the modern age. One of Macron’s biggest goals is to make France, after ‘30 years of underperformance on innovation’ (Vinocur.N, 2018), one of Europe’s leading nations in the technology industry. Governmental investments in recent years have been made to modernise the private and public sectors of France; this has supported ‘Macron’s bid to make Paris the innovation heart of Europe’ (Wilkins. C, 2018). One of these investments was promised by Macron in 2018, when he proposed the funding of ‘€1.5 billion into artificial intelligence research through to 2022’ (Wilkins. C, 2018). It seems that Macron’s dedication to technological innovation is paving the way for France’s younger generation as they embark on new career paths. In a recent survey, ‘50% of French youths aged 18-24, and 70% of students at the École Polytechnique, France’s flagship technical university, want to go work for startups rather than enterprises’ (Evans. J, 2018). This suggests that the value of innovation and growth is being recognised as integral to France’s future development, and that new technology will be at the forefront of future workplaces.
One sector where new technology is already being implemented is in public transport. After the high amount of road deaths in France, France decided to try and make their roads safer by introducing self-driving cars (local.fr, 2016). By removing the driver from the car, the possibilities of human errors occurring due to delayed reactions, poor judgments, anger, and tiredness are eliminated. By implementing automated vehicles on the road that can recognise the traffic systems and procedures, the danger of such errors is lessened and a safer road experience is created for people, especially as the driverless vehicle can senor and detect any problems faster than a human (International Transfer Forum, 2019, p.16). With benefits such as this increased road safety, France made a substantial investment, ‘of 40million euros’, to initiate the use of automated vehicles in the public transport sector (Signla, 2018). The theories had been presented, the technology had been funded, all that needed to be proven is that this change would truly enhance the way citizens used public transport.
The tests began in Paris, where a trial using a driverless bus commenced to gauge whether the French market responded favourably. Initially, reactions were extremely positive to the trial, which was concluded by a 2017 survey that reported ‘97% [of French citizens] said they were satisfied with the service and 88% said they would use the minibus again’ (Wiesmayer. P, 2019). However, it seems that the longevity of the automated service bus was still under question, as the public began to lose interest in the novelty of this vehicle and, more crucially, it was considered ‘simply too slow’ (Wiesmayer. P, 2019). For the busy schedule of the Parisians, speed of transportation is a must and the ‘Métro is the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to get around Paris’ (Paris Bureau, n.d). Any new technology would have to meet the demands of the public’s lifestyle for it to be successful and accepted as progress, and speed is a high priority for most modern workforces. French companies clearly still need to perfect their products in the autonomous vehicles industry if they are going to radicalise transport in the next few years. With publicised incidents such as the Navya vehicles accident, in which ‘a driverless bus struck a pedestrian in Vienna’ (J. Tirone, 2019), making the claims of improved road safety inconclusive, it may be a while before French citizens accept autonomous vehicles as the future of transport and set the example for other countries.
Another sector hit by artificial intelligence, is the retail sector. We can already witness jobs such as cashiers progressively being replaced by self-checkout tills. In France ‘of 3,299 stores studied across the country, 1,887 - or 57% - now have at least one self-service till installed’ (Crouzel. C, 2019). It is easy to understand why there is such a vast installation rate of self-checkout tills in modern markets, where high-speed service is very appealing to customers, as consumers primarily use these new self-checkouts for the sake of speed and efficiency (Vialeron. R, 2019). Self-checkout tills offer many advantages to businesses: the size difference means it creates more space in the shop, which means there is more room for products to be sold, and the stores require less personnel by having the self-checkout service (Pratt. M, 2015). It’s not a surprise that it has grabbed the attention of retail businesses such as Casino, who ‘for the first time, was open in the afternoon without a cashier’ (‘Crouzel. C, 2019). However, whilst the use of these machines may seem beneficial for the rate of service, the absence of human interaction can also cause many issues as there is less supervision, which would likely increase the chances of theft (Pratt. M, 2015). This suggests roles within the retail sector are becoming less about face-to-face customer service, which demands a higher amount of staff, and more about supervising multiple machines and overseeing customers’ interactions with them (acting more like security guards than sales staff).
It is not just in-store that machines are being turned to for sales productivity. Recently, because of the rapid increase of France’s development in artificial intelligence, large retailers have implemented the of use delivery drones. Big retail company’s like ‘Amazon have set up a research center in Ile-De-France’ (Compte. K, 2017) to start their project on delivery drones, stating that they will be ‘providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system’ (Amazon Prime Air). However, ahead of them, is ‘La Poste’ pointing out difficulties such as the longevity of the batteries which restricts them in flying long distances and that even though the cost of the drone is cheaper than hiring a delivery driver the drones still require pilots to drive the drones, making them less cost effective (Godard. B, 2017). If companies are to continue with drone delivery projects, it will mean employing people with more technical skills and abilities, meaning that rather it being ‘a question of job loss, it is a question of job transformation’ (Martin. N, 2018).
The crucial debate is whether the fast-growing development of artificial intelligence will have a positive or a negative impact in the workplace. As has been discussed, French workplaces have already started to replace unskilled or semi-skilled job roles with machines. However, many of the jobs that have started to be replaced are ‘traditionally more performed by people who have a certain level of education’ (Martin. N, 2018). Translation requires highly skilled professionals and it ‘is sometimes avoided because it is considered to be too expensive’ (Craciunescu et al, 2004). For a long time, France has been interested in machine translation. In 1933, France was ‘awarded a patent for a “mechanical brain” that could translate words and combinations of words’ (Schairer. K, p.96). Fast-forward to the 21st century, and now ‘it’s clear that the quality of the translations produced by machine translation is improving at a fast pace’ (Smartcat, 2019). Machine translation has become attractive for its ease, speed and cost effectiveness. However, human translation still provides a better quality of work and can understand the cultural references that a machine is incapable of (Omer. A, 2017). The future of this service may lie in a marrying of human and machine translation. Human translation requires an initial draft, followed by a final review to make corrections and produce the final piece (Craciunescu et al, 2004). By the machine producing the draft, and the human rectifying any errors in the first stage of the translation the process of accurate and culturally sensitive translation could be quickened, making it cheaper and more reliable for the customer.
Even though the young citizens from countries with high levels of economic growth are optimistic and looking forward to changes, the youth in France are not (Robin. J, 2018).The biggest concern amongst the French about the rise of artificial intelligence is the decrease of employment, as it is predicted that ‘by 2025, 20% of the tasks could be automated, thus threatening the elimination of 3 million employees in France’ (Laurent. A, 2017). Concerns have been shared that, with machines having such a big role in the workplace, it is likely working conditions will worsen and wages will be lowered as humans cannot compete against their robot counterparts (Martin. N, 2018).
Whilst these problems may affect some employment opportunities in France, the introduction of more technology in certain sectors will create new prospects for employees. As has been discussed, French society will only accept the implementation of new machinery if they value the speed, cost effectiveness and reliability that it promises. Instead of reducing jobs, these changes require employees to adapt, as there could be more call for technical roles that allow human employees to work alongside, rather than be replaced by, machines. As ‘the countries with the most robots (Japan, Korea, Germany and Sweden) are also the ones with the least unemployment’ (Laurent. A, 2017), France’s commitment to technological innovation could revolutionise its economic growth.
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