Most people are dazzled by technology – they can’t get enough of it in their lives. But not everybody. Mention the word to some people and they’ll become angry, worried, and maybe even depressed, and they have a good reason to feel that way. After all, technology is threatening their jobs.
Without exaggeration, hardly a day goes by without a news report about robots that have amazing new capabilities. Robots are not new – in fact, they have been on the work scene for many years, doing jobs that are too dangerous, difficult, or expensive for people to do. For example, robots in enclosed areas have been doing perfect spray-painting jobs on cars for decades. They’ve also been used for relatively simple tasks like vacuuming homes and offices.
What’s changing now is not just that they are becoming more capable, but what has been a very gradual trend toward using them in the workplace has accelerated dramatically.
Robotic experts predict that there will be a stunning 31 million service robots in use by 2018, replacing humans in a wide variety of vocations. One of those may be driving a cab. At one time or another in their lives, many people have driven cabs, either as a full-time job, to supplement income, or to earn a few dollars while they were between jobs. Going forward, that option could be less viable as driverless cars become a reality. Further down the road – but not too much – semi-trailer trucks will also be driverless.
Futurist and AI developer Ray Kurzweil has predicted that robots would surpass human intelligence by 2029. At that time, Kurzweil says, they will be able to do all of the things that humans can do, including learning from their experiences, making jokes, and even becoming capable of outsmarting us.
Without exaggeration, hardly a day goes by without a news report about robots
that have amazing new capabilities
Until recently, robots were used mostly in manufacturing, but now they’re starting to show up in healthcare, food services, retail, and hospitality. Doctors are already using them to assist in surgery, retail stores to take inventory, and in warehouses to help sort packages.
Amazon now has more than 45,000 robots in its warehouses, an increase of 50 percent from a year ago. The company is planning a “supermarket of the future” that will have a “staff” of many robots – but just three people. Bank of America is testing automated branches – completely people-less – in three cities.
Robotics now being developed will even make complicated (and better-paying) jobs obsolete, including some that require dexterity, visual perception, and intellectual abilities. Unfortunately, the universe of jobs reserved exclusively for people is dwindling as automation is becoming capable of doing more and more.
Already in Japan a hotel is staffed exclusively by robots; a lettuce farm is run by them, and, in at least one company, office workers are being replaced by them.
Cafe X, a new San Francisco cafe, is using robots to serve coffee, which not only saves the owners money but also paves the way for introducing further automation – automation that has already been developed.
Robots can make sushi, prepare a pizza pie, make perfect noodles, and grill 400 burgers in an hour. Moley Robotics in Germany makes a robot that can cook nearly 2,000 types of dishes, ranging from the very simple to the very detailed.
And technological progress is moving faster and faster. A robot has been tested as a plane pilot; they’ve been replacing farm workers, using artificial intelligence to plant, grow, and harvest food. Many farms are already using fleets of robots that can tend fruits and veggies more efficiently than humans can. Even the postal service is jumping into the act, testing robotic postal delivery.
Money For Nothing?
But replacing jobs is just one of the problems that the accelerating use of robots is unleashing. According to Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, “Income is shifting away from workers and going to the wealthy” few. “This is part of the income inequality in the U.S. and there’s more of that to come…. We have to share the benefits robots bring.”
One idea Sachs has for sharing those benefits is to give young people a certain amount of financial assets or capital. “We’re all in this together,” he adds. “We have to be smart and decent in how we approach the robotics revolution.”
Elon Musk, who heads Space X, Tesla Motors, and other companies, has a comparable idea. Musk believes that as robots replace more and more jobs, a growing number of people will have less work to do and they will need to be sustained by payments from the government. “There is a pretty good chance that we end up with universal basic income or something like that,” Musk told CNBC. Universal income is a system already being practiced by several countries under which everyone will get a regular check from the government.
Obviously, the first concern of anyone whose job is replaced is how to deal with the immediate financial obligations. But as automation eliminates the jobs of many people, society as a whole will have to consider issues that it has never dealt with before, issues like what our priorities in life should be, the best ways to use time, and how much responsibility does society actually have to us and how much should we have to society.
The conclusions that are reached may be very surprising. They also may mark a major change in our approach to life and each other.
Sources: business insider; cnbc.com – ‘Elon Musk: Robots will take your job, governments will have to pay your wage’
Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org