Are we going to lose our jobs to robots?
Are we going to lose our jobs to robots (Creative by Ishu Vaid) Photograph: (WION)
This is the decade of automation, with machines making our work easier than before and in some cases, robots even replacing people at farms and manufacturing units. Pick any one industry and it is easy to imagine a world in which machines outrun humans. Martin Ford, author of the book ‘Rise of the Robots’, talks about a not-so-distant future when robots programmed using algorithms and advanced technology become more efficient than humans. Although data on job losses due to automation is still sketchy, the world that Ford foresees is still a possibility. It must also be noted that so far, most technology-driven agents are not fully autonomous and need human intervention.
The best examples of the kind are Roomba, which became famous for vacuuming the floor in no time, or Siri, which guides us through almost everything, even a heartache with its witty responses.
Here are some jobs that robots can do, and for which, the world might not need humans:
NASA and General Motors have come together to make Robonaut 2. The machine will have an array of sensors and will be capable of handling small jobs like cleaning the space station and assisting humans in space. But there are talks of making it capable of venturing out in space to conduct scientific research.
Recently, Aeon Co., a major Japanese retailer, introduced a four-foot-tall robot at a store to babysit children while the adults shop. There are, however, other models also, like the Hello Kitty robot which tells jokes, quizzes, and tracks kids using a radio-frequency identification chip.
Several major technology companies have announced their interest in launching driverless cars that will be safe and effective at the same time. These are being developed with the aim of making driving easier and error free. Google has tested seven cars with human supervisors. The cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control.
Lawyers and Paralegals
A lawyer would take much longer time than a robot to read through documents and review them. A machine can do all this in a fraction of that time and at a much lower cost. Most popular law firms feel that this is a boon for the industry as people have a tendency of tiring, while a machine can continue working for much, much longer.
It is quite possible to imagine a robot as a pharmacist. Behind the counter, machines can analyse documents, fill out prescriptions and handle other such tasks. The UCSF Medical Center launched an automated, robotics-controlled pharmacy at two of its hospitals. Once they receive orders for medications, the robots pick, package and dispense pills without any error. So far, they have been successful in preparing 350,000 doses perfectly.
Even reporters of today face a risk of losing their jobs to robots. There is a software developed by Northwestern University, which is being used by Fox Cable for baseball and softball coverage as it is cheaper and easier to have a machine multi-task rather than having several reporters at one event. After the game is over, the software collects all data, emails it to the data centre, which comes out with a story in minutes. There is also the story of Xiao Nan robot from China. The robot reporter recently wrote a 300-characters-long article in just one second. Also in comparison to staff writers, robots have stronger data analysis capacity and are quicker at writing stories.
Robots can reach areas that are inaccessible to humans and provide crucial help in rescuing victims from natural disasters. There are currently various prototypes, out of which there is a snake-like robot that can enter tight spaces and use a camera to survey the surrounding area. There are also aerial drones that can conduct inspections or ROV’s, which can help locate underwater objects and determine the condition of bridges and pipelines.
Security and surveillance systems are likely to be a major frontier for automation. While robots are not replacing soldiers altogether any time soon, we do have drones and surveillance systems that can monitor, track and direct security missions. One example is MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), which provides armed robots in Iraq. These robots have GPS monitors which can be programmed to differentiate between fire and no-fire zones, open doors, and even drag out injured bodies.
The easiest target for a robot would be the job of a store clerk. Companies are always working out ways of keeping less staff, so as to maximise profits, and robots might come handy in this. Robots can answer telephones, can communicate, can provide virtual assistance and ensure self-service, reducing the need for checkout clerks. According to Los Angeles Times, there has been a 9% increase in business through self-service machines since 2010.
Currently, robots are manned by humans however with technology upgradations, it is possible to imagine a world where robots run their own chores.
(Contributed by: Zeba Khan)