by Michael Snyder
September 29, 2013
What are human workers going to do when
super-intelligent robots and computers are better than us at doing
That is one of the questions that a new
Future of Employment - How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization)
by Dr. Carl Frey and Dr. Michael Osborne of Oxford
University sought to address, and what they concluded was that 47
percent of all U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20
Considering the fact that the percentage
of the U.S. population that is employed is already
far lower than it was a decade ago, it is frightening to think
that tens of millions more jobs could disappear due to technological
advances over the next couple of decades. I have written
extensively about how we are already losing millions of jobs to
super cheap labor on the other side of the globe.
What are middle class families going to
do as technology also takes away huge numbers of our jobs at an ever
We live during a period of history when
knowledge is increasing an an exponential rate. In the past, when
human workers were displaced by technology it also created new kinds
of jobs that the world had never seen before.
But what happens when the day arrives
when computers and robots can do almost everything more cheaply and
more efficiently than humans can?
For employers, there are a whole host of
advantages that come with replacing human workers with technology.
Robots and computers never complain, they never get tired, they
never need vacation, they never show up late, they never waste time
on Facebook, they don't need any health benefits and there are a
vast array of rules, regulations and taxes that you must deal with
when you hire a human worker.
If you could get a task done more
cheaply and more efficiently by replacing a human worker with
technology, why wouldn't you want to do it?
We are already starting to see this
happen on a mass scale, and according to Dr. Frey and Dr. Osborne,
close to half of all of our jobs could be automated within the next
A recent article posted on smartplanet.com
described how this process might play out...
The automation of half the nation’s
jobs will occur in two phases, the study says:
The first wave will affect
(and is affecting) jobs in transportation/logistics,
production labor, administrative support, services,
sales, and construction.
The second wave - propelled
by artificial intelligence - will affect jobs in
management, science, engineering, and the arts.
Just as interesting as the study is
the response provided by Gary Reber, founder and executive
For Economic Justice, who argues that owners of the means of
production will actually thrive as such a shift takes place.
Those who rely on 9-to-5 standard
employment arrangements for subsistence are likely to suffer
the most in the automation wave.
As Reber put it:
‘Full employment is not an
objective of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor
input and other costs at a minimum.”
This is one of the reasons why the U.S.
economy will never produce enough jobs for everyone ever again.
If technology can outperform humans, it
is only rational for companies to replace humans with technology.
And this is even starting to happen in fields that require very high
levels of education.
Just look at what is happening in the
medical field. Today, millions of people turn to websites such as
for their medical needs, but this is only just the beginning.
Check out this excerpt from a recent
Bloomberg article entitled "Doctor
Robot Will See You Shortly"...
Johnson & Johnson
proposes to replace anesthesiologists during simple
procedures such as colonoscopies - not with nurse practitioners,
but with machines.
Sedasys, which dispenses propofol and
monitors a patient automatically, was recently approved for use
in healthy adult patients who have no particular risk of
Johnson & Johnson will lease the
machines to doctor’s offices for $150 per procedure - cleverly
set well below the $600 to $2,000 that anesthesiologists usually
Certainly we will always need doctors.
But many of the tasks that doctors once
performed will now be performed by technology. For example, have you heard about "OnStar
for the Body" yet?
Some of these new "wearable technologies"
are more than a little bit creepy...
Smart, cheaper and point-of-care
sensors, such as those being developed for the
Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, will further enable the 'Digital
Checkup' from anywhere.
The world of 'Quantified Self' and
'Quantified Health' will lead to a new generation of wearable
technologies partnered with
Artificial Intelligence that will help decipher and make
this information actionable.
And this 'actionability' is key.
hear the term Big Data used in various contexts; when applied to
health information it will likely be the smart integration of
massive data sets from the 'Internet of things' with the small
data about your activity, mood, and other information.
When properly filtered, this data
set can give insights on a macro level - population health - and
micro - 'OnStar
for the Body' (below video) with a personalized 'check engine light' to
help identify individual problems before they further develop
into expensive, difficult-to-treat or fatal conditions.
We are also seeing humans being replaced
in other fields as well.
For instance, DARPA
has developed a
robot named "Atlas" that it hopes will be used in
DARPA's Virtual Robotics Challenge
entered a new phase in July, when Atlas - a 6-foot-2-inch,
330-pound robot developed by Boston Dynamics - was introduced to
seven teams tasked with training it for disaster-response
The end goal? "Supervised autonomy"
so that Atlas and its successors can step into situations too
dangerous for humans.
I don't know about you, but I don't
really want "Terminator" to show up when my family is in the middle
of a disaster, but this is where things are headed.
And as technology increases, a lot of
good paying middle class jobs are going to be vulnerable.
one study of employment data that examined statistics from 20
countries found that,
"almost all the jobs disappearing
are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from
$38,000 to $68,000."
Those are exactly the sort of
"breadwinner jobs" that middle class families
rely upon. And of course working class jobs are being replaced
by technology as well.
MIT Technology Review, a $22,000 humanoid robot named Baxter has
been developed that can easily be programmed to do jobs that have
never been automated before...
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 what are human workers going to do
when robots are making all of our products? That is a very good question.
Incredibly, robots are now even replacing human factory workers in
The following comes from a recent
has been planning to buy 1 million robots to replace human
workers and it looks like that change, albeit gradual, is about
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
So who benefits from all of this?
Those that own the big corporations that
dominate our economy certainly benefit. They aren't going to need to
hire as many of us to work for them, and they are going to make even
bigger profits than before.
gap between the wealthy and the poor will grow even larger.
only thing that most people have to offer in the economic
marketplace is their labor, and the demand for that labor is
decreasing with each passing day.
And if you think that your job could
"never be automated", you might want to think again.
We are rapidly getting to the point
where even driving will be automated...
Brace yourself. In a few years, your
car will be able to drop you off at the door of a shopping
center or airport terminal, go park itself and return when
summoned with a smartphone app. Audi demonstrated such a system
at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
At your next dinner party, ask for a
show of hands of the people who'd want that.
Everybody? Anybody want a car that doesn't
At this month's Frankfurt auto show, mega-auto supplier
Continental announced a partnership with
IBM to help
bring autonomous vehicles to market, with "zero accidents" as a
possible result. Volvo has promised to injury-proof its cars by
GM and Carnegie Mellon aim to
develop autonomous technology to eliminate car accidents.
So what will happen to the 3.1
million Americans that drive trucks for a living once all
driving is automated? What will happen to the millions of
other Americans that drive buses, taxis and limos once all driving
That is something to think about.
And researchers are even trying to
create computers that "seem
human" when you have a conversation with them...
On 14 September, researchers will
gathered in Derry, Northern Ireland, to demonstrate their
latest efforts. If any of them has created a machine that
successfully mimics a human, they will leave $100,000 richer.
The money is being put up by Hugh
Loebner, a New York based philanthropist.
His goal, he says, is total
unemployment for all human beings throughout the world. He wants
robots to do all the work. And the first step towards that is
apparently to develop computers that seem human when you chat to
So if your job involves a telephone, you
are in danger of being phased out.
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
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
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.
media-industry customer Eliza has replaced India’s Tata
We truly are entering an unprecedented
time in human history.
Instead of robots violently taking over
society like so many movies have portrayed, they are slowly starting
to "replace" us instead.
Wired article described what this transition might look like as
it picks up steam...
First, machines will consolidate
their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish
replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers
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.
Are you ready for the "robot takeover"?
The world of employment is never going
to be the same again. Technology has already surpassed human workers
in a whole host of arenas, and this transition is only going to
become more rapid in the years ahead.