A common trope of science fiction is the fear that robots, or advanced artificial intelligence, will rise above their intended use and subsequently wipe out humanity. Terminator, Chopping Mall, Hardware, Virus, I, Robot, even the latest Avengers movie all paint a negative, antagonistic perspective on what robots will do after their inevitable “rise.” Even terrifying thought experiments like Roko’s Basilisk haunt the dreams of techno futurists to no end.
Of course, this is the fiction part of the genre. Not to mention there are a lot of other examples that paint a correspondence between man and our mechanical counterparts. I mean Wall-E saves the day, right? Dangerous or not, robots seem to be on the way. What is noticeable is that they don’t possess the intense exoskeleton and piercing, red eyes as predicted. Instead what replaces them are small-scale factory devices, equipped with dexterous arms and intelligible, learning programs. As it turns out, this may be more dangerous.
What does seem to worry economists, futurists, and blue collar workers alike is the impact automated apparatuses will have on an economy like ours. Technology has been here before, the industrial revolution brought about a surge of new jobs while making some seem obsolete. Workers began learning how to use dangerously heavy equipment, improving efficiency at levels unprecedented before the age of coal and mechanics. Advancements were made piece by piece, bit by bit, for the sake of safety and efficiency. The economy changed along with humanity’s technical know-how.
The internet did a lot of the same thing, creating new jobs while making others seem obsolete. Communications departments were swapped out for emails. Needed a record, look on our online database, don’t rummage through mountains of cabinets and files. As it grew so did the jobs, how else would we have gotten to the era of YouTubers and vine stars. Now the time of the automaton has come, but it brings with it something different; a can of worms we may not want to open.
A Chinese factory responsible for assembling smart phones has achieved a spectacular rise in productivity, an incredible increase of nearly 250% efficiency. The cost was not in money; in fact, the change was at the minimal charge of preparation and electricity. The cost came when a factory worker looked around the warehouse, a building that used to be bumbling with 650 workers bustling about to do their jobs, and realized that only 60 people remained. The general manager announcing that he wants to get that number down to 20 by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Robotic Industries Association has sited that 2016 holds the record of most robots ever ordered. A whopping $1.9 billion was invested by American manufacturing businesses, a 10% growth rate from the previous years. The food industry followed as well ordering 32% more robots then the former years. The mobility of these appliances allows them to become applicative to a flood of different occupations. Self-driving cars have entered into the mining business. Advanced camera tech allows autos to navigate careful, nit-pick work in factories. Programs are learning how to diagnose diseases and even are beginning to write news stories. The Associated press uses automated algorithms to pump out nearly 5,000 stories a quarter.
This flood of robotics brings with it better efficiency, less costs, fewer deficiencies; everything that screams better business. This kind of tech can influence the top ten most populated jobs in the United States, industries that are certain to see major change the more we invest in robotics.
Other changes to the industry are yet to come, in the form of stream-lined modern shopping. In Seattle Amazon Go has opened. Inside the shop hangs special, patented cameras that allow any customer with an amazon account to walk in and walk out without any human interaction whatsoever. The purchase captured by the camera and charged instantaneously on customers’ account. It’s not unheard of for things like this to come about. Coffee shops are learning to use robotic coffee makers, getting rid of the need for a barista. Self-check-out lines have appeared in places like Kingsville; allowing me to skip the line and any need for human interaction.
None of these things are necessarily evil or sinful, it’s the future coming. Farming, manufacturing, retail, mining, healthcare, journalism, fast-food, and plenty other industries will change under the inevitable might of the robotic age. In the change, people may lose their jobs. For some, it will be devastating as well, because not every job is easily transferable.
It’s difficult to just weigh the pros and cons of it all: do we make sacrifices for the good of the industry? Will these robots really cause a depression in human jobs or will the transition be smooth? Should the government regulate something like this in the same way trade deals are stunted for the sake of the American worker? It’s clear that we have a singularity to cross, the moment when does robotic labor overtake human and I certainly hope we prepare for it somehow.