Robots and Employment; Will You Have a Job Next Year?

Robots and Employment; Will You Have a Job Next Year?

Robots and Employment; Will You Have a Job Next Year?

Sometimes it feels like robots might be taking over the world, one tedious job at a time. I’m cool with robots making cars, if for no other reason than the fact I feel much safer travelling in a speeding potential death trap that has been assembled with the only margin for human error being the programming of the actual machines that put it together. This is a far better scenario than weaving through abundant traffic in a vehicle that has been drilled together by a few guys distracted by Facebook or talk of football. The road is a dangerous enough place as it is.

What about other jobs? Each and every time I visit the supermarket I actively avoid the self-service checkouts on principle. Either that or I’m living in the past, holding on to the days when the checkout chick made pointless chit-chat about the weather while she annoyingly chewed her gum. Simple and better times….

During more recent times the trend has continued. We may soon live in a world where all those seemingly paranoid Matrix-type movies are an actual reality. Obviously robots are able to type but when technology gets to the point where robots can think, create and develop opinions, I might be out of a job too.

So you saw all this coming years ago with your Nostradamus spider senses and decided to chase a career that a robot just could not ever do. We even have robot wine-tasters now that can apparently savour the tastes and aromas more accurately than a professional connoisseur. Here’s me thinking that was subjective.

So here’s a few things I think robots will never be able to do. See what you think;

Professional Sports

Professional Sports

Just for argument’s sake and only for a moment, let’s consider the athletic capabilities of potential sport star machines. There already exists, a number of robots that have been manufactured to display and show off their impressive skills that a human sports person would have to have been practising in the womb; and still not be half as athletic.

For example, you could spend years walking around with books on your head but the second someone hits you with a wrecking ball, you'll fall over. (Surely that exact same scenario happens regularly enough for you to know exactly what I mean). Not so with a robot named ATLAS. Created by Boston Dynamics, ATLAS is humanoid robot with exceptionally impressive poise and balance, making it a perfect fit for the football field.

Then there’s another of Boston Dynamics’ creations, the Cheetah Robot. The name “Cheetah Robot” gives it away somewhat doesn’t it? Yeah, it can run really fast. If you're not as fast as Usain Bolt, then you're not as fast as the Cheetah Robot, which can dash along at an impressive 28.3 mph, eclipsing Bolt's 27.78 mph record.

What about the ancient art of weightlifting. When brute strength is what is required to get the job done, surely a robot will win hands down when compared to a lowly human being. FANUC Robotics America created the M-2000iA robot with the sole task being to pick up really heavy stuff and what they have created is indeed just that. The M-2000iA is just fantastic at picking up really heavy stuff. I’ve seen some female Hungarian weightlifters on the Olympics broadcast who I thought might misinterpret what I really meant if I asked them to help me move house. But in truth, what they are lifting is a mere fraction of what the M-2000iA is capable of. It can lift for example, a 2,550-pound train wheel above its robot head (or equivalent) which weighs more than a Volkswagen Beetle.

The curiously named Sand Flea is capable of doing what many of us can’t; jump really high. The Sand Flea can jump up to twenty six feet in the air which is quite impressive. How high is a basketball hoop in the NBA? Yeah, a mere ten feet. Also, in addition to jumping on to buildings, you can see the robot enjoys a past time of jumping off buildings, which generally does not mean good things or turn out well for people.

Even with all of these things considered, when all is said and done, what would be the point in watching a basketball player jump higher than the next guy if it did so because it was programmed that way? Likewise, where would the fun be in watching a soccer player kick a ball past the goal keeper in to the back of the net if it was just because it’s programmer was better than the ‘keeper’s? This will remain a human only occupation.

Creative Arts

Creative Arts

Okay, so let’s consider an example where it is claimed that robots can actually create art. Emily Howell is a robot. Why a robot needs a human name is beyond me. Surely it only serves to create confusion but let’s move on. Emily was fed the works of every single classical composer in existence and told to analyse the music for patterns. She, or it, then examined each piece with the cold, metallic and joyless disposition of a crabby music history professor. When she (it) was finally finished, she then composed her own music. As we all know, the appreciation of music as art is totally subjective (unless it is Justin Bieber in which case it sucks) and so whether we find her (its) output aurally pleasing or not is a non-issue. The point is, did the computer create art. In the same way that I might pick up a guitar and what I decide to play is determined by my influences, is Emily Howell creating music in the same way?

According to those in the know, her (its) compositions are not just coherent, but they are actually considered on the same level as the works of many professional composers and even to the extent that some of those composers have publicly expressed worries that Emily and similar machines to follow may actually make the human composers obsolete.

But by considering this, surely we are ignoring the heart of what creating art is about; the heart itself. Whilst I am sure that robots will be able to perform tasks resulting in art, it is doubtful that they will ever be able to create as such. Surely only a living, breathing thing which possesses the emotional capacity for creative expression is capable of creating art. Digital art tools like Photoshop and Illustrator have been extremely useful for graphic artists whilst camera advancements have made digital photography cheaper and more convenient than ever. If it weren’t for FL Studio and GarageBand there would be far less music in the modern world. However, even after considering all of these things, a machine can never replace an improvised piece of art born of emotional human creativity.

Medicine

Medicine

At first, this may seem a strange one to pick given that there are many aspects of healthcare and medicine that are completely based on analysis and straight-up facts and figures. Computers love facts and figures. The aspects of medicine that are entirely based on medical knowledge, technical expertise, and data analysis could very easily be handled by a machine without much in the way of negative consequence.

It has been suggested by many, including technology guru Vinod Khosla who spoke at the Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco this year, who think that the future will see more robot than human doctors. Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems even went as far as saying that computer-generated decisions, based on broad patient datasets, would actually lead to better healthcare than can be delivered by the average doctor. Algorithms operated by devices seeded with artificial intelligence would provide objective analyses, he said, ones that physicians today largely cannot do because of embedded procedures and hackneyed ways of thinking about healthcare. This led Khosla to conclude that at least eighty percent of doctors could be replaced by software.

At first, it was just things like electronic health records that stop doctors if prescribing the wrong medications or if they forget to ask the right questions at an annual check-up. Now machines have become stand-ins. Virtual avatars given curious names such as “relational agents” and handle daily conversations to motivate weight loss and observe while patients take their medications. And their diagnostic skills are improving; In January 2013, a group from Indiana University achieved 41.9% better diagnostic accuracy with their artificial intelligence algorithm than trained physicians. Does this mean years of medical school followed by a few more years of residency is becoming a waste of time? I think not.

Sure, there is no doubt in a robot’s abilities where analysing and processing data is concerned however, there are aspects of healthcare and medicine that a computer would just not be capable of handling. For instance, there is good old-fashioned bed-side manner. Many patients might argue that quite a few current human doctors lack in this area but aside from those with personality that seems at odds with their job in medicine, the human element involved in comforting and approaching patients in a professional manner is something beyond the scope of an automated machine.

Education

Education

It is true that teachers may be becoming a little nervous about their positions and place in the workforce given advancements in modern science. There is a lot of talk of children growing up in an increasingly technological world and therefore the education system needing to keep up by using computers in the classroom, and even using video games as tools to aid in a child’s development and learning.

Let’s consider a world where teachers are not made of flesh and blood but wires and circuit boards;

Robot teachers would be a once only investment. All we would have to do is simply upload software into the robot and program it to teach our children. These robots would only require upgrade software as needed and also a power source. We would not need to feed or pay a robot to teach our children.

But how does a robot handle disruptive children or a child that needs to use the bathroom? Can a robot tell when a child is suffering from some type of learning disorder?
Humans should teach children like their parents have done since the very dawn of forming schooling begun. After all, most elected politicians are robots and look how that worked out for us. Imagine a classroom with the absence of a human teacher where there would be chaos and anarchy without the order only a human can instil.

Will You Have a Job Tomorrow?

Will You Have a Job Tomorrow?

So why am I writing this? Why are you reading this? Are we really that worried about living in a world where the machines have won and robots perform all the jobs we used to? Will the world see massive unemployment as companies streamline their business with more efficient and cost-effective robotic methods? Will we humans ever become truly obsolete?

I would suggest that as the world changes then so do we. Planet Earth is not the same place that it was one hundred years ago and so will probably not be same place in another hundred years. The irony of the advancements in modern science could possibly turn out to be that, whilst I would reasonably suggest I won’t be around to see the world in 2114 and so it isn’t my problem what the world looks like and if there will be enough jobs for everybody, what if those same advancements keep us alive longer? What are we presented with then? An over-populated world with fewer jobs. Things look a little bit grim……until you consider those points above; there are many jobs which can never be done properly without the human element.

Also, the first commercial airline pilot went to work at his new job just one hundred years ago. Who knows what sort of new opportunities for employment will be created in the future.