Are humans becoming obsolete in the workforce? All signs point to “yes.”
As IBM’s Watson proved on Jeopardy, robots are becoming smarter than people. They also make fewer mistakes and they don’t get bored.
In 2013 there will be 1.2 million industrial robots working worldwide — that’s one robot for every 5,000 people!! Robots are currently analyzing documents, filling prescriptions, and handling other tasks that were once exclusively done by humans. And the situation is about to get even more dramatic.
As Artificial Intelligence technology improves, machines will be able to take on more and more tasks typically undertaken by humans. This is both a curse and a blessing at the same time. On the one hand, humans will be liberated from tedious, boring and repetitive tasks to make a living; on the other, this also means there will be a dramatic shift in employment.
The repercussions will be immense. We are already seeing this with a growing effort by Washington to address immigration and ultimately ‘push’ 12 million migrants back to Central America – because quite simply US industry won’t need that type of cheap labor in the future. This, also, means there will be a shift in global trade, with more and more production being relocated back to the U.S. because the attractions of cheap labor overseas will diminish as machines are able to produce goods – round the clock, with greater precision – right here in the U.S. at a lower net cost to manufacturers.
This will be a multi-generational shift. But, having said that there are near term indications of this shift. We have real data that suggests there will be almost immediate shifts in some jobs. By the time its all said and done, we could be seeing the elimination of 1 in 5 jobs – as we know them!
Here is a dose of what to expect. These are purely illustrative, but they make the point.
- Retail Clerks – 15 Million
After a year of testing with its own employees, Amazon opened its Amazon Go store that lets you browse, grab and walk out — skipping the checkout line, but not the bill — to the public recently.
The convenience store and its proprietary technology, made up of hundreds of cameras and sensors and requiring a new Amazon app, dangled the promise of solving a bedrock complaint for shoppers — long checkout lines — when it was unveiled just over a year ago. The high-tech approach, crafted by the company that’s most visibly changed how Americans shop in recent years, suggested grocery shopping was on the cusp of its biggest breakthrough since bar codes.
The change spurred by Amazon Go may be more gradual than that. The technology behind it, called Just Walk Out, is proprietary and Amazon is expected to keep its details secret while it tests it on a small but more varied customer set than the Amazon employees who’ve been using it. It was originally scheduled to open to the public in early 2017 but was delayed in part due to the complexity of the technology.
There are roughly 15 million clerks working in retail stores. Its not a massive leap of faith to imagine that soon – maybe in several years – retail clerks will be seeking other employment! This trend, by the way, had already started many years ago, as more and more markets have installed self-checkout facilities. Over 400,000 self-check-out stations have been shipped to retailers! But this is just the beginning.
- Drivers – 5 Million
Google announced last fall that it was working on automated cars to increase safety and help humans reduce the time spent commuting to work. With human supervisors in the passenger seat, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. UBER is test marketing autonomous vehicles in several markets. Daimler Benz unveiled autonomous trucks last year, that drove across the U.S. without human intervention.
“Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard,” said Google engineer Sebastian Thrun. “They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe.”
Imagine, no traffic tickets, no stress – just sitting in the back of a car, listening to music, reading something … and being driven to work and back! Chauffeurs were a luxury item for the super-rich, and now, thanks to AI, we are all going to be chauffeur driven!
But the downside to this vision is, there are something like 5 million Americans that drive for a living! What are they going to do now? And, if you recall, one of the big negotiating points in putting NAFTA together was giving Mexican truck drivers access to the U.S.! Does NAFTA have to be modified – for new technology? This shift could be tectonic.
- Soldiers – 1.5 Million (Active)
It’s both frightening and interesting at the same time. There are videos on YouTube, that show these monster machines that can jump over fences and lift heavy equipment – and take fire! Although soldiers have yet to be replaced by an army of robots, we seem to be moving in that direction as drones and other machines are increasingly being used in reconnaissance and combat missions.
One example is the MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), made by Foster-Miller, which has provided armed robots in Iraq. According to Wired, the robot is equipped with a GPS monitor; it can be programmed to differentiate between fire and no-fire zones, to open doors, and even to drag out injured bodies.
It does make logical sense – doesn’t it? Who wants their kids killed in battler? If we can replace soldiers with fierce robots, then hey – why not? You won’t have to feed them in the battle field, won’t have to shelter them (in the traditional sense, with beds and patties)!
And the government won’t be shelling out weekly paychecks too. Don’t forget there 1.5 Million active duty soldiers ‘working’ today. And probably just as many in reserves. If their jobs can be done better for less money by robots, well, then they’ll all have to find other things to do?
Maybe they can become cops… don’t we have a shortage of applicants for the police force?
- Sex Workers – 1 Million
The infamous Orgasmatron, featured in the 1972 movie, Sleeper, by Woody Allen, may in fact become a reality.
Meet Samantha, the sex robot! The sex robot responds to touch on the hips, shoulders and has a fully functioning vagina and mouth, engineer Sergi Santos, from Spain, said. When held, the robot responds in an American drawl, with enticing phrases like “I’m on for you all the time”, “nice and gentle” and “now then, what’s next”. Unveiling his lusty creation on camera for the first time in Barcelona, Santos said: “Samantha is interactive. “Basically she likes to be touched. She has different modes of interaction – she has romantic, she has family and she has also sexy modes.”
And then, we have Harmony. Sex robot Harmony is set to hit retail shelves next month. The $15,000 doll comes with software that makes her “prone to falling in love with her owners”, according to manufacturer Real Dolls.
Amazon already carries 12 different dolls on its site. And the trend, I assume will continue!!
- Police Officers – 900,000
Estimates vary, because the definition of “police and detectives, including supervisors” varies from state to state. The overall U.S. estimate is there are 1.1 million workers, but something closer to 900,000 “police and sheriff’s patrol officers”.
Every statement made about the military replacing soldiers with robots, applies to Cops too. It really isn’t a big stretch of the imagination to have robots patrolling streets, with cameras on their faces … with central monitors in police stations actively gauging activity on every corner of a city or town. With pharmacists and sex workers becoming automated, is there really a need for police officers anyway in the 21st Century! Will we continue to have illegal drug dealers and prostitutes?
- Meat Processing & Agriculture – 500,000
If you love your meat, it might surprise you to know that virtually all the meat processing industries are labor intensive. So intensive, that they are havens for illegal immigrants, performing repetitive tasks like cutting up chicken, at low wage rates. Almost 9 billion chickens, 34 million cows, 200 million Turkeys, 130 million pigs … processed into neat packages for supermarkets! And, an annual payroll approaching $20 Billion. Agricultural and food processing industry has already invested in automation and artificial intelligence. Tomatoes are now picked by robots! And it follows in the great tradition of the industry, where mechanization literally transformed the labor profile of the whole western world – with machines now picking cotton and harvesting fields. This process continues into the 21st Century.
- Pharmacists – 312,000
The next time you drop off a prescription order, you might see a robot behind the counter.
The UCSF Medical Center recently launched an automated, robotics-controlled pharmacy at two UCSF hospitals. Once computers at the new pharmacy electronically receive medication orders from UCSF physicians and pharmacists, the robotics pick, package, and dispense individual doses of pills. Machines assemble doses onto a thin plastic ring that contains all the medications for a patient for a 12-hour period, which is bar-coded.
The pharmacy system, which was phased in over the past year, so far has prepared 350,000 doses of medication without error. This fall, nurses at UCSF Medical Center will begin to use barcode readers to scan the medication at patients’ bedsides, verifying it is the correct dosage for the patient. The automated system also compounds sterile preparations of chemotherapy and non-chemotherapy doses and fills IV syringes or bags with the medications.
Not bad, eh? I would go a step further and suggest that we might even get into a scenario where a machine dispenses, but that there will be human interaction – but from a remote location. In real terms, you might walk to a counter in a pharmacy with a big screen with a human being in India on the other side! If you have questions or need help scanning your prescription, the remote clerk will assist! Everything else however, will be automated!
- Babysitters – Unknown
If there’s anything we’ve learned from Hollywood, it’s that robots are not only deadly weapons, they are also great for entertainment.
Aeon Co., a major Japanese retailer, introduced a four-foot-tall yellow and white robot at a store in 2008 whose job is to babysit children while the adults shop.
Other models include the Hello Kitty robot, which is perfect for “whoever does not have a lot time to stay with child,” according to a vendor and NEC’s PaPeRo robot, which tells jokes, gives quizzes, and can track kids using a radio-frequency identification chip.
- Astronauts – Handful
Through a partnership with General Motors, NASA’s Robonaut2 is the latest example of android technology. Equipped with a wide array of sensors and dexterous five fingered hands, it will initially handle menial jobs such as cleaning the spacestation and assisting humans in space operations.
However, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or perform scientific work, according to NASA.
- Sportswriters and other reporters/writers – unknown
Using software developed by Northwestern University, Narrative Science specializes in machine-generated stories. One of its customers, the Big Ten Network, which is partially owned by Fox Cable, says it uses the service for baseball and softball coverage because it’s cheaper.
“It’s considerably less expensive for us to go this route than for us to try to have our own beat reporters at each one of these games,” Michael Calderon, Big Ten’s director of new media, tells Bloomberg Businessweek. After a game, scorekeepers e-mail game data to Narrative Science, which feeds it into a computer and spits out a story in minutes.
You never know, I could become obsolete too. But, then, no one pays me to do this, so an expensive robot just can’t take my place! When you work for free – well, you have the ultimate job security! Eat your heart out Mr. Chicken Plant worker, my job can’t be eliminated!