31 Jul Will robots and artificial intelligence take my job?
Much of the current discussion on automation is of the “robots-killing-jobs” variety. This alarmism is unsurprising. After all, most research to this point has focused on the introduction of robots into manufacturing, or on computer algorithms that automate routine tasks. But within the data, we see that both automation and reduction of worker intensity correlate with slower wage growth. This makes sense, for it is at the intersection of human labor and human capital that high levels of productivity are associated with the most robust, in many respects, economic growth. And, if you think about it, that leads us to a fundamental question about automation: should the unembodied labor of humans be valued more highly than the newly developed skills of robots and machines?
What’s happening in Japan is not new
In 2013, a paper titled “Robots and their Impact on the Japanese Economy” published by the International Federation of Robotics documented the dramatic expansion of manufacturing in the former Japanese colonies. The data was extremely revealing: of 23 Japanese states or prefectures that had already undergone an industrial revolution, 43 had experienced a robotics revolution. And of the 23 that had not, all but one had experienced a robotics revolution in the previous five years.
This data set is a foretaste of what’s about to happen in the United States. Automation is on the rise in manufacturing, creating a wave of anxiety in workers, consumers, and even politicians.
Labor productivity growth has slowed
But the stakes are also rising in the postindustrial age, even as labor productivity growth has slowed. Consider this: Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 20 percent of the workforce in America was removed from the traditional sector of blue-collar labor, trades, manufacturing, and the like, but a massive increase in computer-driven automation and software development led to an 8.3 percent gain in productivity, mainly from increased productivity in computers and mathematical calculations. With the demand for labor keeping up with the supply of jobs, that means that wages have fallen along with productivity.
With a huge, both actual and potential labor market, a new wave of automation in America has yet to have the impact that the automation of Japan experienced. When Japan experienced its industrial revolution, a technological change forced a strong effort at unemployment to redress the dislocation. Today, technological change is also causing a decline in public support of technology, and the demand for skilled workers is clearly at an all-time high. This means that between two of the most industrialized, technologically advanced, and prosperous nations in the world, Americans remain more reactive to the use of technology and less prone to the ways in which the application of technology affects their lives.
Although, as Mark Zuckerberg famously states, technology has only made people “better at everything,” a clearer picture of the public support for technology is needed to better understand the public appetite for its effects. Unfortunately, a recent survey of over 1,000 people ages 21 and over found that two-thirds of the American public (64 percent) opposed technological advances that could increase technology’s capability to discriminate and make people easier to manage.
Glimpses into the Future?
What is clear is that the public is becoming more critical of technology and more willing to be social and political about their concerns about technology’s effect on their lives. According to the Washington Post, 89 percent of Americans report having close friends or relatives who also use social media, and over 80 percent are online at least three times a week.
It is expected that 60 percent of consumers will purchase or invest in a smart device in the next three years. This trend has been corroborated by the new research into the effect of wearable technology. This is an era of empowered consumers, who are doing more than purchasing items: they are actively engaged with the creation, dissemination, and use of information. I can imagine a day in which the most sophisticated piece of technology will actually need to be attuned to the individuality and culture of a person in order to effectively use it.
Similarly, a range of studies have found that the media in the United States is becoming less cultural and niche-focused. On the contrary, it is increasingly ubiquitous, with over one billion people exposed to this type of media every day. The digital shift is turning the broadcast newsroom into a partisan blogosphere, while entertainment is becoming a ubiquitous distribution channel.
And here is some fun fact…
Until this sentence, this post was made, generated, written by artificial intelligence. All I had to do – provide the algorithm with a general topic and sit back and watch how the article is generated. The information, quote, facts were entirely provided by my digital bloger-buddy. And no, this did not take days or hours to generate. Fue minutes later I had content ready to post.
But how does this answer and what is the answer to the main question – will automation take my job? Not entirely. I`m dividing these job-takers into two categories, for sake of simplicity – robots, and bots. Robots are things that can do and track things in the physical world, while bots are digital. Yes, I know – some computer scientists and IT guys are ready to feed me to some digital overlords, for mixing AI and simple automation scripts in the same bowl, but let’s keep it simple for now.
Robots will help with the repetitive processes in day-to-day tasks. For example, we have housekeeping robots, that do the floor cleaning, keeps lawn in excellent condition, and fridges that’s keeping tracks on the shopping list. In an industrial environment, these robots have taken over some of the more challenging tasks – repetitive, high precision, and tasks that are dangerous to us meatbags.
Bots. Well, this is a different case – once a digital worker is ready to go it can do more than any human college. We have heard about law practicing bots, automated accounting, even Wall Street is taken over by bots. Data based information is easier to automate. That`s a fact.
Here comes my idea of how we can predict if your job will be automated:
– Imagine an average day at your workplace
– Split that day into tasks
– Take one task
– Can you write down step-by-step guide about how to do this task? If yes – it is possible to automate
– How much time does it take for you, to do this task? The longer it takes for a human to do the task, the more likely it going the road of automation.
Of course, this is a very simplified way to look at work automation, but it is a starting point for the future, to get into this topic deeper.