Watson could be the key to smarter manufacturing robots

But will better bots take more jobs?

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Some reports predict that robots will replace 5 million jobs in the next couple of years. Bill Gates thinks we need a "robot tax" to compensate for those losses. A new partnership announced today between Swiss automation firm ABB and IBM's Watson initiative could hasten that future while it seeks to improve efficiency in on the manufacturing floor.

Swiss company ABB makes a ton of things, including electric vehicle power, industrial automation systems and manufacturing robots. It's biggest sales, though, come from software that enables communication between machinery and centralized control centers. It's looking to further this growth (and boost its sales) via this new partnership with Watson, IBM's artificial intelligence technology.

Imagine an automotive assembly line, full of robots that build cars without any human intervention. Someone has to monitor and inspect the machinery for defects, ensuring their safe and efficient operation. ABB's technology can gather real-time images and then get Watson to analyze them for potential problems, something a human previously needed to do.

While calling it the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" might be overstating things, the connection of world-class AI to ABB's installed base of 70 million connected devices could truly help industrial manufacturing be much more efficient. Replacing human beings, however, may be the true cost of doing business this way.