By B.N. Frank
On Sunday night, I watched 60 Minutes because there was a segment about very expensive robots being created to clean up nuclear waste in Japan. Despite the fact that the first robot failed within minutes of operation, robots cleaning up toxic waste isn’t necessarily a bad idea. However, it reminded me of all the other jobs that I keep hearing about that are already being done or will eventually be done by robots.
Within the last month, I saw a news story about the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) news anchor being introduced in China. My local news anchors complained about the idea of eventually being replaced by robots. Ha – welcome to the nightmare.
Walmart is already using robots in their warehouses. Kroger has plans to do the same. McDonald’s has replaced human employees with technology, too. Don’t even get me started on automated and unmanned vehicles. I’m sure there are plenty more examples that I’m not even aware of yet.
An article I read in the Progressive Populist a few months ago made me very sad: “Unions Face the Fight of Their Lives to Protect American Workers. Robots put jobs on the line and threaten a rise in income inequality, experts say.”
If you don’t have time to read all of it, here are a few excerpts:
Sylvia Antuna is worried. The cook has worked at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for 18 years. But after some fellow cooks showed her a video of a restaurant in China that uses robots, she’s become concerned her job won’t be around much longer.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, who would ever think we’d be replaced by robots?’” she told HuffPost. “The robots had actual hands making the food, and they actually had robot people taking the food to the tables.”
Although Antuna may not have been replaced by a robot – yet – she is well aware of the ways in which technology has already replaced workers in the Las Vegas hospitality industry. The hotel where she works has laid off more than a dozen prep cooks in recent years. Instead, it has bought pre-cut fruit and vegetables from a company that relies heavily on machines. And several Las Vegas restaurants have begun replacing servers with iPads that take customers’ orders.
Around 10 million US jobs — especially service jobs such as cooks, cleaners and janitors — are at high risk of automation within the next five to 10 years alone, according to an October 2017 analysis. These are jobs that have traditionally benefitted from strong union support, and while unions are stepping up to address this challenge, in some places this is becoming an increasingly difficult task, especially in light of declining membership and influence.
10 million U.S. jobs. This is why tech inventors are really pushing the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Apparently they don’t want us all to starve to death. Or maybe they’re just afraid we’ll start coming after them. Regardless, I feel particularly sad for young people. The U.S. definitely doesn’t seem to be the “Land of Opportunity” anymore unless, of course, you’re a robot or a tech designer.
All of this new technology is also horrible for the environment, too. Much of it fails quickly and/or needs to be replaced regularly. More AI and robots will undoubtedly add to the already staggering amounts of Electronic Waste (E-Waste) in the U.S. and all over the world. We can only slow this down if we all stop buying so much of it.