Rise of the Robots

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.

Automation 

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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.

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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.

Transportation

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.

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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

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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.

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Professions

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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At least athletes’ jobs are safe

8 comments

  1. With this new age of artificial intelligence, I worry about machines like Watson, not because of their replacement of jobs or the demand of specific services like a Doctor. I worry because these machines are not only smarter and have greater processing powers than humans, but they also have the ability to learn and become even better. This worries me because what if we can’t measure what the machine has learned and this comes back to hurt us. I think a great parallel to this is in the TV series Westworld. I won’t spoil the plot, but it pertains to AI and what it learns over time. Nice post and final reflection!

  2. Aditya Murali · ·

    Awesome blog post! Automation is definitely a scary concept if you think about how many jobs can be lost because of it, but it is great that you mention the industrial revolution because it was equivalent to the change that we are going through now. Even after it, the US seems to be doing fine and while many jobs were lost, a lot more were gained due to new markets and new demands that didn’t exist before. This is definitely reassuring. I think it’ll be interesting to see how quickly robots and automation are implemented and see how trustworthy they are in getting the job done without the skill (or hindrance, maybe) of human intuition.

  3. olearycal · ·

    Great post to summarize a lot of what we have talked about this past semester! I didn’t know about the new Amazon grocery store. I think that’s a great idea because lines at groceries stores can get so hectic during busy times. However, I doubt that you will ever go into a store and see no employees. I think there will always be a couple of people there to give a personal touch. I say this as someone that gets frustrated by automated voice customer service systems. It’s definitely scary to think about where all the people who are being displaced by robots will work. The reason why these people work as truck drivers is because they lack the education to seek something higher. The jobs that are in such high demand today are those like engineers that require years of education.

  4. Nice post. AI definitely the next big thing.

  5. As soon as I read this all I could think about is skynet haha. But, very cool blog about the future of AI. I believe AI is going to be the next be thing for this country. The ability to automate many portions of our life will free us from many menial tasks. Even though their is a fear that robots will soon take our jobs, many jobs will remain in human hands. Robots may be able to recreate some of the things we do, but will never fully replace us. At least thats the hope.

  6. You covered a lot of the same things that I’ve covered about AI in my blog. It’s definitely a concern. Another industry that will be very replaceable in upcoming years is manufacturing (which will most likely hurt China a lot more than us). Under Armour has really pioneered this by being the first company to utilize by developing their “Lighthouse” a lot earlier this year. http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/under-armour-blog/bs-bz-under-armour-opens-ua-lighthouse-20160628-story.html
    While the industrial revolution majorly impacted society, the growth of industry slowed down after a little bit of time and things began to regulate again. With AI, there is no cap as to how much growth that industry can be capped off at because it’s growth rate is more of an exponential rate than gradual like human capabilities. Definitely interesting to see how this will play out. Great blog overall

  7. Nice post and very relevant topics. I had the opportunity to be out in CA earlier this year and actually stayed across from a Tesla factory. The one thing that struck me was the size of the factory vs. the size of the parking lot. There were just very few parking spots/cars. The reason: automation. This entire factory is run my robots who assemble the cars. The humans are there to take care of the robots. For me this example solidified the future of manufacturing and the automated factory.

  8. Nice post and great followup to our AI discussion! I think one of the most important things to consider is the lack of people to buy products that were produced by AI. If there are no jobs for people, there are no wages for people to buy the products that robots are producing. Although the quality of life will improve, we must tread carefully in the automation of jobs. We probably have no need to worry due to the high number of restrictions that will most definitely be implemented.

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