Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rise Of The Droids: Will Robots Eventually Steal All Of Our Jobs?

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Michael Snyder, Contributor
Activist Post

Will a robot take your job?  We have entered a period in human history when technology is advancing at an exponential rate.  In some ways, this has been a great blessing for humanity.  For example, I am absolutely blown away by all of the things that my little iPod can do.  But on the other hand, all of this technology is eliminating millions upon millions of high paying jobs.

In the past, I have written extensively about how millions of American jobs have been sent to the other side of the world, but now we may be moving into a time when workers all over the planet will be steadily losing jobs to super-efficient robots.  For employers, robots provide a lot of advantages to human workers.  Robots never complain, they never get tired, they never need vacation, they never show up late, they never waste time of Facebook, they don't need any health benefits and there are a whole lot of rules, regulations and taxes that you must deal with when you hire a human worker.

In the past, robots were exceedingly expensive, and that limited their usefulness in the workplace, but as you will see later in this article that is rapidly changing.  As robots continue to become even more advanced and even less expensive, will there eventually come a point where the "human worker" is virtually obsolete?

Of course I can hear the objections already.  Many of you will insist that even though automation has always eliminated jobs in the past, it has also always created new jobs that were even better.  For instance, once upon a time most of the U.S. population worked on farms, but thanks to automation now hardly any of us do.

But what happens when we get to the point where super-intelligent robots are more efficient at everything?

What will be left for "human workers" to do?

And if human workers are no longer needed for most tasks, what will their role in society be?
Personally, I still complain about self-service check-in kiosks at airports and self-checkout lanes at supermarkets, but most people seem to have accepted them.  There are even many bank branches now that don't have any humans in them at all.  The number of jobs where a human worker is absolutely "required" is dwindling all the time.

And a lot of the jobs that are disappearing thanks to advances in technology are fairly high paying jobs.  In fact, one recent study of employment data from 20 countries discovered that "almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000."
As I mentioned earlier, in the past robots were simply far too expensive to perform most tasks.  So human workers had an advantage.

But that advantage is disappearing right in front of our eyes.  For example, one company has produced a new robot called "Baxter" that only costs $22,000.  The following is from an article about Baxter in the MIT Technology Review...
Baxter was conceived by Rodney Brooks, the Australian roboticist and artificial-intelligence expert who left MIT to build a $22,000 humanoid robot that can easily be programmed to do simple jobs that have never been automated before.
Eventually, the goal is to produce versions of Baxter that will perform tasks even more cheaply than Chinese workers do...
Brooks’s company, Rethink Robotics, says the robot will spark a 'renaissance' in American manufacturing by helping small companies compete against low-wage offshore labor. Baxter will do that by accelerating a trend of factory efficiency that’s eliminated more jobs in the U.S. than overseas competition has. Of the approximately 5.8 million manufacturing jobs the U.S. lost between 2000 and 2010, according to McKinsey Global Institute, two-thirds were lost because of higher productivity and only 20 percent moved to places like China, Mexico, or Thailand.
The ultimate goal is for robots like Baxter to take over more complex tasks, such as fitting together parts on an electronics assembly line. 'A couple more ticks of Moore’s Law and you’ve got automation that works more cheaply than Chinese labor does,' Andrew McAfee, an MIT researcher, predicted last year at a conference in Tucson, Arizona, where Baxter was discussed.
So it won't just be American workers that will be displaced by robots - it will literally be workers all over the planet.

In the future, when you call someone for customer service you probably won't be talking to someone in India.  Instead, you will probably be talking to a robot.  In fact, this transition is already starting to happen...
IPsoft is a young company started by Chetan Dube, a former mathematics professor at New York University. He reckons that artificial intelligence can take over most of the routine information-technology and business-process tasks currently performed by workers in offshore locations. 'The last decade was about replacing labour with cheaper labour,' says Mr Dube. “The coming decade will be about replacing cheaper labour with autonomics.”
IPsoft’s Eliza, a 'virtual service-desk employee' that learns on the job and can reply to e-mail, answer phone calls and hold conversations, is being tested by several multinationals. At one American media giant she is answering 62,000 calls a month from the firm’s information-technology staff. She is able to solve two out of three of the problems without human help. At IPsoft’s media-industry customer Eliza has replaced India’s Tata Consulting Services.
Even some of the largest companies in China are starting to make the transition from human workers to robots.  The following is from a recent TechCrunch article...
Foxconn has been planning to buy 1 million robots to replace human workers and it looks like that change, albeit gradual, is about to start.
The company is allegedly paying $25,000 per robot – about three times a worker’s average salary – and they will replace humans in assembly tasks. The plans have been in place for a while – I spoke to Foxconn reps about this a year ago – and it makes perfect sense. Humans are messy, they want more money, and having a half-a-million of them in one factory is a recipe for unrest. But what happens after the halls are clear of careful young men and women and instead full of whirring robots?
So what will the world look like as robots begin to replace humans in just about every industry that you can imagine?

A recent Wired article described what this transition might look like...
First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.
All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.
I don't know about you, but the phrase "robot takeover" is not exactly comforting. Perhaps I just watch too many movies.

In any event, as technology advances there will eventually be very few jobs that robots cannot perform.  In fact, you might be surprised to learn some of the things that robots are already doing.  The following is from a recent Yahoo News article...
Google and Toyota are rolling out cars that can drive themselves. The Pentagon deploys robots to find roadside explosives in Afghanistan and wages war from the air with drone aircraft. North Carolina State University this month introduced a high-tech library where robots — 'bookBots' — retrieve books when students request them, instead of humans. The library's 1.5 million books are no longer displayed on shelves; they're kept in 18,000 metal bins that require one-ninth the space.
So what will the 3.1 million Americans that drive trucks do for a living once robots are driving all of our trucks?

What will the 573,000 Americans that drive buses do for a living once robots are driving all of our buses?

And eventually even our skies may be filled with robotic drones that are busy performing one task or another.

Just check out what a recent Time Magazine article had to say about the emerging drone industry...
But the drone industry is ramping up for a big landgrab the moment the regulatory environment starts to relax. At last year's Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show in Las Vegas, more than 500 companies pitched drones for filming crowds and tornados and surveying agricultural fields, power lines, coalfields, construction sites, gas spills and archaeological digs. A Palo Alto, Calif., start-up called Matternet wants to establish a network of drones that will transport small, urgent packages, like those for medicine.
In other countries civilian drone populations are already booming. Aerial video is a major application. A U.K. company called Skypower makes the eight-rotored Cinipro drone, which can carry a cinema-quality movie camera. In Costa Rica they're used to study volcanoes. In Japan drones dust crops and track schools of tuna; emergency workers used one to survey the damage at Fukushima. A nature preserve in Kenya ran a crowdsourced fundraising drive to buy drones to watch over the last few northern white rhinos. Ironically, while the U.S. has been the leader in sending drones overseas, it's lagging behind when it comes to deploying them on its own turf.
Unfortunately, many people will not understand what I am really trying to get at in this article.
They will just say something like this: "Well, they are going to need someone to build all of those robots."

Even if that is true, they won't need hundreds of millions of us to build them.

No, the truth is that when human workers become "obsolete", those that dominate society with technology will look at the rest of us as "useless eaters" that are not contributing anything to society at all.

Already, there are many economists that are warning that advancements in technology are steadily reducing "the natural employment rate".

And we are already seeing this happen in the United States.  As I wrote about the other day, the percentage of the labor force that is employed has declined every single year since 2006...

2006: 63.1
2007: 63.0
2008: 62.2
2009: 59.3
2010: 58.5
2011: 58.4

In January, only 57.9 percent of the civilian labor force was employed.

Of course there are certainly a lot of factors involved in why those numbers are declining, but without a doubt technology is playing a role.

So what do we do with all of the workers that are being displaced?

Are we just going to put everybody on food stamps?

Will the gap between the rich and the poor grow even larger than it is today?

Will most people eventually become dependent on the government in order to survive?

We are moving into uncharted territory, and nobody is quite sure what comes next.

As time goes by, robots will even start to look more like us.  In fact, this is already starting to happen.  Just check out the following description of a "bionic man" that has been created from a recent article in the Guardian...
He cuts a dashing figure, this gentleman: nearly seven feet tall, and possessed of a pair of striking brown eyes. With a fondness for Ralph Lauren, middle-class rap and sharing a drink with friends, Rex is, in many ways, an unexceptional chap.
Except that he is, in fact, a real-world bionic man. Housed within a frame of state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs is a functional heart-lung system, complete with artificial blood pumping through a network of pulsating modified-polymer arteries. He has a bionic spleen to clean the blood, and an artificial pancreas to keep his blood sugar on the level. Behind the deep brown irises are a pair of retinal implants, giving him a vista of the crowds of curious humans who meet his gaze.
He even has a degree of artificial intelligence: talk to him, and he'll listen (through his cochlear implants), before using a speech generator to respond.
As robots become more like us, will we eventually become more like them?

Will we be told that we must "merge with the machines" in order to keep up and be useful in society?

As we rapidly approach the "technological singularity" that futurist Ray Kurzweil and others have talked about, will humans increasingly seek to "enhance" themselves with technology in an attempt to "get an edge"?

What will happen to those of us that refuse to "merge with the machines" and that refuse to "enhance ourselves" with technology?

Will we be outcasts?

Those are some important questions.  Feel free to share your thoughts on those questions by posting a comment below...

5 Ways Robots Are Outsourcing Humans in the Workforce
Can Robots Bring Jobs Back to America? (Infographic)

This article first appeared here at the Economic Collapse Blog.  Michael Snyder is a writer, speaker and activist who writes and edits his own blogs The American Dream and Economic Collapse Blog. Follow him on Twitter here.


This article may be re-posted in full with attribution.


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Anonymous said...

Please research and learn more about economics before promoting the fallacious idea that "machines are taking our jobs".
It makes as much sense as claiming light bulbs are bad because of all the candle maker jobs they're destroying. Or the horrible printing press destroying all the jobs of the scribes.
A great starting point to learn some economics is Henry Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" which is available for free download over at mises.org.
We will not be outcasts, we will have more leisure time as well as ever more innovation to continue to raise all of humanity's standards of living.

Anonymous said...

why is there such contempt for the natural world?

Hide Behind said...

Problem of the ages "Of what use, Man?"
Economist often use the age of a nations work force to figure out nations standings in the future but when I posed the question of, Wouldn' t robotics play such a large part of actual work mental and physical so as to completely negate age as a factor; three of them said never entered calculations and 7 said thoght of it but so many variables they could not use data.
I wrote each and politely told them they were liars and facts are there that they deliberately hid the numbers.
Six, yes six have now either written papers on or been calling on others to be more open.
That was a few years ago.
Istill have yet to see anf "official" US response.p

Anonymous said...

Where will I get the money to buy robot produced products if I don't have a job?

Anonymous said...

There's one job that robots can't replace: owner of the money supply. Everyone else will lose their jobs and hence their incomes, and the banksters will foreclose.

Robot soldiers will herd us into FEMA camps, where we will be involuntarily detained, mandatorily sterilized, and starved to death.

The alternative is for the government to issue a guaranteed income. This will not be inflationary because robots, computers, and 3D printers will be able to produce unlimited wealth.

But since our government is controlled by banksters, things will have to change politically, or we as a society will be going with the first, FEMA camp option.

Anonymous said...

So if this is the future, the workerless century, then the population will have to be provided with sufficient income to buy all these goods and services produced by robots. Fortunately, such a system has already been worked out all the way back in 1919, by Major C.H. Douglas in his proposal of exactl such a system: Social Credit. It is time we apply it. The sooner, the better.

Anonymous said...

Jobs were outsourced to China and other nations willing to get into bed with big multi national corporations and provide slave labor to them.

Most job losses have already happened (over the past 12 years) with free trade deals and the Walmart culture embracing cheap crap made by slaves. Americans lived off their inflated housing market till it crashed, now everyone is too poor to buy more crap made by slaves employed by US companies.

So, as stated above, the primary role of robots will be as prison guard, executioner, doctor and eye in the sky/drones.

Anonymous said...

Anon#1 is having such a pleasant dream, Reminds me of back in the sixties we were told that by the end of the century we would only have to work three days a week or less and have so much leisure time we wouldn't know what to do with it all. Flying cars and robot maids too.

Anonymous said...

follow your dreams it is said.... why should we have to do other peoples labor? grow a garden, build a bike, learn a useful skill or hobby. these things are all possible

HereAmI said...

The population must be "managed" just like the animals in Africa. We clearly are the proud possessors of system which has always been ruled over and directed by the few for the few; now the masses are no longer economically useful, they will be pruned back, much like an overgrown hedge. Those fascinating and superior individuals who make all the decisions will be left to wander around a renewed earth denuded of its human detritus. Perhaps you have never really understood this fact, but we have all been engaged in a long-lasting game of Monopoly, and as you know, there comes a time when there is only one player left standing, the Jewish Banker. What finer example of humanity to inherit the earth.

Martin Clarke said...

Skynet anyone?

Anonymous said...

robots will free us of the slavery of work

eople do the best work when its something they love to do, this should be encouraged

computers were susposed to help but the companies and governments used to it enslave more people into thge 9-5 jail terms just to feed themselves and their familes, wake up!
i'm really quite shocked at this website haveing such a short foresight on this matter

Anonymous said...

Re: HereAmI

Are you being serious? If so, I'm wondering what causes you to be so apathetic to others members of this thing we call humanity. Oh, that's right, it's the imaginary social class system that is created by the system of slavery called money.

Allow me to propose a solution other than mass-murder. Rather than killing people, we need to fundamentally change our society to enable true abundance. I'm not referring to an abundance of the cheaply-made crap where 90% of it ends up in a landfill. I'm talking about making things to the highest standard of quality so that we reduce our wasted resources to almost 0.

Money will no longer be needed in the future. Because of this, practices like 'planned obsolescence' can be done away with. 'Planned obsolescence' is the deliberate withdrawal of quality in order to ensure repeat purchases.

Once we get rid of planned obsolescence, we can set about creating an 'access abundance' for all people. Anything that is produced will be available to all without cost.

This way, people will no longer have a need to 'own' anything. Ownership is just a response to perceived scarcity. Because ownership will be a thing of the past, so will ownership-related crimes such as theft.

All professions that are solely concerned with money will be gone as well. Bankers, lawyers, businessmen, managers, prostitutes, drug dealers, etc.

Most crime will be non-existent, because everyone will have their needs met. They will also have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms.

What I am describing here are the basic ideas behind what is called a 'resource-based economy'. For more information, research the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement. I'm not a Utopian, but I believe we can do much better than we are if we just work at it.

Brendan R

marcos toledo said...

Our masters are experts at mass murder they will simply kill in the billions now all the people they hate aready.

Freaky?? James said...

I thought we were 'ruled' by humanity-hating alien reptilians who've been manipulating and enslaving us for thousands of years.

Most 'human' technology, especially the high-end stuff like computers, robots, advanced materials and 3D printers, to name but a handful (as well as much more that isn't in the public domain), is alien or alien-derived, and is only now available because it serves 'their' purposes for it to be so.

Humanity has largely served its purpose in creating a world in which the reptiles can now thrive without us, so we're just in their way. Even if some of us survive all of their present and future efforts to exterminate us, we'll just be the last few wretched rats that managed to evade the traps, awaiting the mercy of a swift death.

Bit pessimistic, I know. Possibly inevitable. Maybe there'll be 'divine intervention' or an appearance of some 'nice' aliens to change things around. Whatever happens, don't think for one second that robots are meant to benefit humanity, even if it turns out that by some strange turn of events they eventually do.

Personally I'm putting my stake on a fundamental vibrational change that will completely transform everything and, along with many others, am working as hard as I possibly can to bring this about.

It's already beginning to happen, but there's still a hell of alot of shit to get through.

In the meantime, love, peace, and the best of luck to everyone.


Anonymous said...

Alien tech? Don't you think that humanity itself is capable of creating its own tech? And really, Aliens? I bet they are originals to this world who didn't allow robot tech to dominate e.g. The Money man syndrome.

OF course its inevitable as was the smart phone, computer and 'jobs' and sure, we'd all be obsolete bludgers after that but so what, you want it to end? Then boycott the folks who push this trend, yourselves....*bzzzzt...erk!....* sorry, bit of a short circuit there...

Freaky?? James said...

To Anon 2:27 PM:

Human technology? Of course!

Action plan? You do your thing and I'll do mine.

Freaky James with love, peace, luck and all that other good stuff.

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