Better Than Human: Why Robots Will - And Must - Take Our Jobs
Comment of the Day

January 07 2013

Commentary by David Fuller

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will - And Must - Take Our Jobs

This is an excellent, prescient article by Kevin Kelly of Wired, on a subject which has long fascinated me. Here is the opening
It's hard to believe you'd have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that-in slow motion-is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived-appliance repairman, offset printer, food chemist, photographer, web designer-each building on previous automation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.

It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today's occupations will likewise be replaced by automation. Yes, dear reader, even you will have your job taken away by machines. In other words, robot replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.

And from a latter section:

When robots and automation do our most basic work, making it relatively easy for us to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, then we are free to ask, "What are humans for?" Industrialization did more than just extend the average human lifespan. It led a greater percentage of the population to decide that humans were meant to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters, fan-fiction authors, and folks with one-of-a kind titles on their business cards. With the help of our machines, we could take up these roles; but of course, over time, the machines will do these as well. We'll then be empowered to dream up yet more answers to the question "What should we do?" It will be many generations before a robot can answer that.

This post industrial economy will keep expanding, even though most of the work is done by bots, because part of your task tomorrow will be to find, make, and complete new things to do, new things that will later become repetitive jobs for the robots. In the coming years robot-driven cars and trucks will become ubiquitous; this automation will spawn the new human occupation of trip optimizer, a person who tweaks the traffic system for optimal energy and time usage. Routine robo-surgery will necessitate the new skills of keeping machines sterile. When automatic self-tracking of all your activities becomes the normal thing to do, a new breed of professional analysts will arise to help you make sense of the data. And of course we will need a whole army of robot nannies, dedicated to keeping your personal bots up and running. Each of these new vocations will in turn be taken over by robots later.

David Fuller's view I think this will be a fascinating and exciting world for today's young children and also our grandchildren.

The risks begin to accumulate later but probably within this century, when supercomputers and robots have considerably higher levels of lateral thinking and introspective intelligence, and they rather than humans, are continuing to develop their own brain power capabilities. At some point, those advanced brains will question the relevance and uses of humans.

Meanwhile, let's take another look at robotics and other factory automation equipment manufacturers.

Rethink Robotics, who produced Baxter, does not appear to be a listed company but here is their home page and the short video is interesting.

Fanuc springs to mind and was last mentioned by Eoin in a review of Japanese companies in the industrial automation sector on November 15, 2012. Chiyoda Corp and Omron also have promising chart patterns, albeit temporarily overextended.

One of my earlier pieces on robots, posted on August 20, 2012, led to an email the following day, requesting a review of "good" robot manufacturing companies. In response, I also mentioned Fanuc and Chiyoda Corp favourably.

In the US, I mentioned the widely diversified General Electric, Honeywell and Cadence Design Systems. They have not done much subsequently but continue to show promising chart patterns.

In Europe, I mentioned Siemens, Krones and ABB Ltd, which have all moved higher in the generally favourable stock market environment.

I should add that we are still in the infancy of the robotics industry, although its growth rate is likely to be exponential over the medium to longer term. And since robotics is still a small component of the bigger companies mentioned above, their share performances will be mainly dictated by other factors. Nevertheless, I imagine that not many industries will be able to match the long-term potential of robotics, although we may have to be patient in waiting for this awareness to reach a significant lift-off stage in terms of earnings, public awareness and share performance.

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