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Wednesday 6 February 2013.|
* PART 1
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 theMIT 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.