Robots – Friend or Foe

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Popular culture is littered with examples of where robots have taken over the world and have left humans at their mercy. Movies such as Terminator and Matrix show potential consequences of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. At present, many jobs such as factory assembly are being automated with investments in robotics. Even office jobs involving data entry and analysis are being automated. Computer systems such as IBM’s Watson, now help make medical diagnosis! As a result, people are left to wonder if there will be any jobs left in the future.

With complex tasks such as medical diagnosis being performed by IBM’s systems, people are right to be worried about their future job prospects. Automation in factories began decades ago with the advent of PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) and other advanced computer platforms. As a result, many processes used to create goods became automated. As the processing power increased, the algorithms used became smarter and faster. Now, even more complex tasks are being automated. There is a major economic incentive to use robots instead of humans for these tasks as humans need rest and take breaks. When a task is automated, there is a consistency of results. Recently, companies such as Daimler have started running trials of automated 18-wheelers. Although the concept is in its testing phases, the success of the project and subsequent use of automated truck driving has profound implications.

Anytime people lose their jobs, there are major effects. As a result of the person working, other industries also benefit. You and your co-workers often go out to eat at nearby restaurants. Similarly, truck drivers make stops across the country at gas stations and restaurants. If they suddenly vanished, many industries serving these drivers will get affected. Individuals are right to be fearful of a transition to fully automated systems because many jobs may be lost. Despite the visible job loss, there is a reason to be hopeful.

During the Industrial Revolution, Luddites attempted to destroy machinery that threatened their employment. Ultimately they failed and were replaced. However their fears were unfounded and employment grew! Likewise, the robotics replacing services such as truck driving could create new lines of work! Just as the development of the Internet gave rise to Social Media and E-commerce companies, automation has the potential to create new jobs. In the case of automated vehicles, you will still need someone to maintain and fix vehicles and to create computer code. What happens if a vehicle gets stuck? Moreover, another benefit of automation includes the potential to make goods cheaper. At one point, farm labor accounted for more the majority of employment. Now it is less than 2% according to government statistics. The point is that the loss of jobs in one industry could be offset by gains in a different or new industries.

Advances in AI and robotics are causing many jobs to get automated. From the doctor’s office to the factory floor, robots are performing a variety of tasks. Many jobs are in the process of being eliminated. However, there is hope as many jobs were created in similar disruptions in the past.

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