Why it matters that Mercedes-Benz is firing robots and hiring people.

It could be said that the only thing Americans love more than cars is making robots to build them.

The American auto industry was the largest in the world until the 1980s, when it was overtaken by Japan. America now has the second-largest automobile industry by volume.

For the most part, we should be thanking car-building robots for that.


Thanks, robots! Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (which is a real thing and not an evil globe-dominating corporation from a Philip K. Dick novel), the automotive industry is the largest user of industrial robots. Nearly 100,000 robotic car assembly units shipped in 2014, say IFR statistics.

Unfortunately, a lot of that innovative robotic automation came at the cost of human jobs.

With the increased use of automation in the 1980s, car manufacturers realized that they could maximize efficiency and productivity by filling their assembly lines with robots instead of people. Not to mention that people require things like salaries, sick leave, vacation days, and health care that robots do not.

Over half a million automotive jobs in North America were lost from 2000 to 2012, partly due to increased automation at manufacturing plants.

One car maker in Germany, however, is starting to reverse that trend.

They're actually hiring salary-earning human workers instead of robots. Yes, that's right! Flesh-and-blood people! Aka nature's original meat-robots.

Luxury car company Mercedes-Benz has been hiring human beings over robots at its 101-year-old plant in Sindelfingen.

But before you feel too bad for the unemployed robots, remember that they don't actually need money. Or a home. Or clothes. They don't even need to be told that they're doing a good job. They're just dumb robots. (You should still be nice to them, though, so they spare your life during the inevitable robot uprising.)

They've never even seen "The English Patient." Stupid robots. Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images.

Why look to human workers instead of relying on automation?

With increased demand for more customization in cars, there's been an increased need for human hands at car factories.

While robots are good at everything from playing pool to shaving your head, they don't quite have the nimble motor skills and on-the-fly problem-solving abilities needed to do some of the custom jobs Mercedes-Benz requires.

Yay! Humans! Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

For instance, if a customer wanted heated cupholders on the driver's side but not the rear passenger side and chrome tire valves on the front wheels but matte black valves on the back wheels, it'd be much harder to program various robots to remember all that for one specific job than it would be to tell a human worker, "Hey just a heads up, this customer is the f**king worst."

In short, smart, capable workers with heartbeats and brains are what the company needs to run efficiently. Which is good news for people who like employment — and stealing jobs back from robots.

Humans are a damn good investment, too.

“Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today," Markus Schaefer, head of production at Mercedes-Benz, told Bloomberg. "We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”

Since the plant processes 1,500 tons of steel a day and produces more than 400,000 vehicles a year, automation and streamlining of systems is of the utmost importance.

Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images.

On top of that, Schaefer has said he wants to reduce the amount of hours needed to produce a car from 61 to 30 — and humans are the way to do that.

“The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

If car manufacturers in Germany can bring back autoworker jobs, so can we.

Americans like luxury cars too! No one is more demanding of unnecessary customization than Americans! We even like to customize our toilet paper!

Maybe our unflinching need to get exactly what we want will do some good for once and lead to a surge in human employment.

In Detroit, for example, where the American auto industry was essentially invented, thousands of jobs have been lost to automation. And all over the country, the number of American workers in manufacturing jobs has declined from 40% to 10% since World War II, in part because of robots.

So here's to you, human beings.

I haven't met all of you. But I've met enough to know that sometimes you can be pretty cool, and also that you're really good at building things.

One day, when I can afford a Mercedes-Benz with heated cupholders, red carbon-fiber trim, chrome door handle inserts, and five-spoke wheel caps, I'll know who to actually thank.

Mostly this guy. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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The rafters listened with bewilderment as they were told about toilet paper shortages and the NBA season being canceled and everyone being asked to stay at home. One of the river guides, who had done these kinds of off-grid excursions multiple times, said that they'd often joke about coming back to a completely different world—it had just never actually happened before.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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