When the Industrial Revolution began in the 1800’s, many of the world’s workers found themselves in need of a career change. Farmers and crafters found themselves replaced by machines and assembly lines that could produce ten times what they could previously make. However, the inventions and ideas of the Industrial Revolution jump-started the global economy and led to exponentially more job opportunities. With the help of machines, humans could travel faster, build bigger and sell to the world. The global landscape was altered forever.
A similar type of change is about to occur in our world today. Due to the Information Revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century, products and services that would of been regarded as science fiction 20 years ago exist today. Entire industries can pop up in the span of a few years. The creation of the internet coupled with advances in artificial intelligence and automation will lead to the creation of millions of jobs in the coming years.
Just not for humans.
It’s estimated that in the next 50 years 45% of the world’s current jobs could be replaced by some form of robotic or AI automation. When most people think of automation, they might picture expensive, custom-made robots in assembly lines like the ones shown above. This type of automation is only cost-efficient in narrow situations and as already displaced the assembly line workers of the past. The type of automation I’m referring to is versatile, adaptable and self-learning.
This is Sawyer, a robot by Rethink Robotics. Unlike an industrial robot, Sawyer has vision and can learn what task to do by watching someone do it. He can weld, bend, sort, fold, serve; the list goes on and on. Sawyer can be programed to do anything two human arms can do. Most importantly, at $22,000 Sawyer cost less than a full-time minimum wage employee.
While Sawyer is far from perfect, he is a sign of what is to come. It’s like comparing a computer from 1980 to a computer today. The more robotics advance and the cheaper they become, the more they will replace human jobs across every type of industry.
Just as cars pushed horses out of the economy, mechanical minds will do the same for human minds. Here are some of the largest industries that automation will disrupt.
Driverless cars are not far off; they’re here and they’re about to take over. The most common type of job in the US by a wide margin is a truck driver. In 33 states, truck drivers are the most common type of occupation. The transportation industry altogether employes 3.5 million people in the US. These jobs include teamsters, limo drivers, cab drivers and ride-sharing drivers. Driverless cars are coming for all these jobs.
While you may have been reading quite a bit about autonomous cars in the news, companies like Mercedes Benz have been working on Autonomous Trucks. Unlike human truck drivers, these trucks would not have to stop for rest. They would cause less accidents and cost less to transport altogether.
Restaurant and Retail
Robots have already begun to take over human retail jobs. In a CVS where there used to be 10 employees, there are now 10 self check-out counters and 1 employee. In Arizona, the first completely automated McDonalds already exists. This type of automation will only become more and more prevalent. This week, Amazon announced plans for their new brick-and-mortar supermarket, AmazonGo. Using sensor technology, Amazon Prime members can walk in and grab any item off the self, adding it to their virtual bag. By simply leaving the store the items in their bag are paid for through their Amazon account. In essence, the entire store is one smart, automated robot. If this technology can be applied to a supermarket, why not all facets of retail? As Amazon begins to build these stores, other companies will follow suit. One day, you may shop at Bloomingdales, go see a movie, and then eat at a McDonald’s; and not see a single employee.
If you think automation won’t affect the professions, you’re wrong. Even the most specialized jobs are not safe. Chances are in the last 24 hours, you’ve read a news article written by a “robot.” For the news industry, quantity can often matter more than quality, and using algorithms to crank out articles can help a company stay ahead of the competition. Companies like Quill specialize in helping news sites develop algorithms to create fresh news content. The Associated Press has a robotic journalist thats writes thousands of articles per month. ESPN uses an algorithm to write fantasy sports articles. Buzzfeed uses robotic journalists. The WSJ uses robotic journalists. Everybody used robotic journalists.
Robotic minds won’t have to pass the bar to begin working in our legal system. Most of the work lawyers do today is not litigation, but contract assessment and discovery. In the 21st century, lawyers have found that they no longer need to hire droves of paralegals to pour through thousands of emails, contracts and documents. Artificial minds can do that now. Most large, big-name law firms employee some sort of artificial intelligence that can do discovery faster, cheaper and more accurately than a human could.
While doctors, arguably one of society’s most valuable professions, will never be entirely replaced, robotics has already begun to shift the medical landscape. Pictured above is IBM’s Watson, who started his first job in 2013 at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Watson is already amazing doctors with his accurate and quick diagnostic abilities. Unlike human doctors, Watson has the ability to learn from thousands of medical reports and cross reference patients all over the country instantly. When robots like Watson become better at diagnosing than humans, the demand for doctors will fall.
While all this may sound frightening (or unrealistic), it shouldn’t scare you. Automation will drastically improve the quality of life for countless humans. Services will become faster and products cheaper. Automated transportation will place time back into our hands. Medical automation and AI will increase our life spans.
We as a society just have to solve the not-so-easy task of figuring out what to do with all those individual replaced by robots.