Why Your Colleague Will Be a Robot Sooner Than You Think

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By Julienne Davis | 7:17 pm, November 29, 2016

The rather gloomy idea that robots will one day replace us has significantly grown in force recently with advances in technology and computers making the issue one we will all face in the near future rather than it merely being the stuff of pop culture futuristic fiction.

It’s been easy to miss with everything else that has been going on but the last few weeks have seen developments that have accelerated the march of the robot in everyday life.

There was Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from Japan’s Osaka University unveiling his android Geminoid, a robot ‘twin’ that seeks to service humans. Over at UAE university, they’ve pioneered a humanoid robot that will specialize in helping children with special needs.

This followed a report from the World Bank last summer that predicted two thirds of jobs in developing countries will be under threat from automated machines.

One of the most recurrent themes in science fiction is the fear that AI (artificial intelligence) in the shape of evil computers or rebellious robots will one day rise up and dominate mankind.

The theme first surfaced way back in 1920 with Czech writer Karel Capek’s stage play R.U.R  which portrayed an army of self-replicating robots turning against their creators and eventually wiping out the human race.

Those who enjoy the fictional dystopian visions of the future may be in for a rude awakening to a very real future reality. If recent trends in the expansion of AI continue at their current pace, the robots might not be aiming to destroy you (yet), but according to some experts they are definitely coming for your jobs.

Just look at the headlines. In Australia robot automation threatens $4 billion of outsourcing deals. Buddy, the family robot that is the creation of French company BlueFrog Robotics, is becoming a trusted household companion the world over.

According to recent statistics, the US unemployment rate has fallen below 5% for the first time in years. However, this doesn’t take into account the huge number of people who have used up all their benefits and have dropped out of the labor market completely.

It also doesn’t take into account the people who are only able to procure part time jobs or those who are self-employed and earning under minimum wage. President elect Trump stated that “bringing jobs back to the USA” is one of his  top priorities. Yet according to Professor Moshe Vardi of Rice University those new jobs may be relatively short-lived because, in thirty years time or less, robots will have taken over most of our work.

“We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task,” said Vardi, a professor in computational engineering,  when he recently spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington.

Professor Vardi also said that the rise of robots could lead to unemployment rates greater than 50 per cent. “I do not find this a promising future, as I do not find the prospect of leisure-only life appealing. That seems to me a dystopia. I believe that work is essential to human well-being.”

Computing pioneer Vinod Khosla, envisions a future where Artificial Intelligence will take over 80 percent of IT jobs. IT professionals are not the only white collar workers who Khosla sees as replaceable; they join doctors, lawyers, and accountants on the growing list.

Already some of those jobs provided by the new app technologies (like Uber, Lyft and Post Mates, for example) will be purely interim jobs, because in the not too distant future self-driving cars will be taking those jobs away en-masse.

Aside from the implication of job losses,  just imagine that? None of us will need cars. There will be no cars parked on the streets or in our parking lots and garages, because these automated vehicles will be just driving 24/7 only stopping to recharge and then continue on.  Imagine how different our cities will look!

This next technological boom is now happening and ready to be unleashed on the world. Computers and robots are now being developed and manufactured to do what they call “deep learning.”

This means an advanced self-learning artificial intelligence will now be able to accomplish much more, without having to worry about lunch breaks, workers compensation, and medical care.

A new study due to be published in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training by Stuart Elliot visiting analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who is on leave from the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council, indicates that technology could replace ‘workers for 80 percent of current jobs.’

IT jobs and careers like doctors, lawyers, and accountants. As their “deep learning” AI intelligence increases, will various professions risk being wiped out?

It’s an exciting time on the one hand. We’ll have more free time to do what we want to do. Maybe we can pursue more artistic pursuits. In fact, jobs in the arts may well be the jobs and careers that will not be affected by robot workers. Can you envisage a Westworld in which robots played the robots?

More people will have the time to follow their dreams of being artists, musicians and performers. That’s the upside.

But the downside is how will many people earn a living if there is no real work for the rest of us? Much to the chagrin of conservatives and libertarians who tend to dislike the idea of big government, it may be that the government will have to grow bigger just to provide a living wage for the unemployed masses.

How will that play out for the doctors that used to earn a million plus per year or the IT worker on $60-80K? Will they base that living wage on what one previously earned with no chance of increasing that amount?

Or, will we go through a violent reshuffling of the haves-and-have-nots, and allow a more socialist equalization of living spaces, possessions and earnings?

It’s happening faster than we think. For those not artistically minded, how will they spend all that endless leisure time? I expect many will battle depression as their feelings of uselessness set in.

They may get hooked up and even addicted to virtual reality machines; having virtual sex and virtual adventures and basically dropping out from human interaction more or less altogether. Oh wait…actually, that is already happening. The biggest question of humanity’s future is to ask: How will we find meaning in life when work is no longer necessary?

Many of us equate who we are with what we do. We need to find a way to retain our sense of self-worth without jobs.

This issue certainly throws up more questions than answers. But, one question in particular should be of special interest to us right now: Are you ready for the prospect of losing your job to a robot?