The sectors of AI and robotics are growing like never before.
It’s all around us. Robots are building cars, vacuuming floors and aiding in military operations. On the other side, AI is stopping cancer, killing Pac-Man and running our search queries on Google.
In short, there’s quite a lot of things being run by robots and AI. And they’re doing more and more as time goes on.
Which leads to the problem that many futurists say will plague our world in the near future. That is, if our jobs can be done by robots, in the future, they will be.
If you skimmed that last sentence, read it again. In short, unless you’re a Prime Minister, a CEO, or the Emperor of Japan, your job security goes down whenever another advancement in robotics is made. Multiply that by the number of times it’s happened in the last decade, and you’ll get a pretty bleak picture.
And it’s causing futurists to worry. The question is, should the rest of us worry?
There is some cause for concern. But this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.
Look at the Industrial Revolution. When it began, many weavers and agricultural labourers suddenly lost their jobs as machines took their places. The onset of globalisation, too, cost many their jobs as companies looked to developing nations for cheap labour.
But these two events didn’t leave the whole world unemployed. New jobs came along as the old ones disappeared. For many, these new jobs required more education, and they used a more specific skill set. Just by looking at the university and polytechnic degrees offered these days and you can see where that division, or specialisation, of labour has gotten us.
There’s a problem with that.
You see, robots are amazing at doing one thing, and doing it really well. Take Deep Blue. Its one job was to play chess, and play chess it did, so well that it beat Garry Kasparov, the world’s reigning chess champion at the time. How about Watson? Its job was to play Jeopardy!. It not only played the game, but defeated the game’s two greatest winners, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. As our jobs become more specific, robots will have an easier and easier time replacing us.
The reason why they haven’t taken our jobs is because it takes time, money and lots of hair pulling to get a robot like that onto the market. But they’re picking up the pace.
Already, Amazon uses 15,000 robots in their warehouses. A robot that can make and flip a burger in ten seconds has already been built. While it has yet to start displacing many of the 400,000 plus McDonald’s employees, one might expect that to happen within the next decade.
So what do the futurists say is in store for us? Well, severe job loss, obviously, but what’s their solution?
A full on worker’s revolt is on the horizon.
Yes. A workers’ revolt. Overthrow the 1%, cut the pie the robots made for them (that is, through cheap labour) and redistribute their wealth to all the workers of the world. At least, that’s what I think Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, is suggesting.
I don’t like that idea. It’s violent, and it sounds like communism. (Which didn’t work all too well.) And, as history has already taught us, violence isn’t the answer to everything. In the Industrial Revolution, the Luddites tried violence by smashing machinery, and that ended off in murder, hangings, and deportations.
But then, if the future is going to be as horrible as predicted, why not use violence?
Because it’s not going to be that bad, that’s why. I admit that this future is pretty ominous and cloudy, but there are others saying that people will learn how to live without jobs and that the government should give everyone an allowance to live comfortably.
Real life is going to be somewhere between those two extremes.
So should we worry?
Well, no. Worrying about robots taking your job isn’t going to get you anywhere. If your primary goal in your job is to get money, then your options for other jobs, even self-employment, are endless. If you do like your job, all I can say is that you’d better hope it’s not going to be replaced soon.
But humans have this amazing ability to adapt as society changes. We might not have a dystopia, and we won’t have a utopia, but I think that the majority of us will find a new way of living in the robotic age.