Will all jobs be taken over by robots?

Foxconn’s chairman Terry Gou made an announcement in 2011 that in 3 years-time he would be replacing the workers whose job is to assemble, weld and spray products for Nokia, Sony and Apple with a million robots. This was spurred by scandals about arduous working conditions and worker suicides which forced him to increase worker’s wages. Foxconn, the largest maker of computer components may be behind schedule with its announced plan, but it has already added thousands of robots to its workforce.

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Mixing Robots With Human Workforce
Restaurant chain Panera, PG&E – gas and electric utility giant and other companies had done the same – adding robots to their workforce.  And if this trend continues, the professional job market will be depleted by computers and robots equipped with artificial intelligence in the next ten years. This is a repeat of the ruthless automation of assembly lines using robots back in the 1980s. This was the time when robots instead of human workers are installing bolts, nuts, washers down to the stainless steel shims on the production floors of various manufacturers.

Mid-Level Jobs Susceptible To Computerization
Industry leaders project that the most at risk of robot replacement are mid-level jobs including clerical and factory workers. In 2013, a study was made on the susceptibility of jobs to computerization. The study findings showed that around 47% of the entire US employment is at high risk. These are the jobs that could be automated over the next 10 years or so.

Workers in the transportation and logistics industry could soon find themselves replaced by robots. Several factors can contribute to this:

  • Rise of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. These are the battery-powered mini-helicopters with GPS technology, cameras, communication, memory banks, and sonar sensors, which are expected to dot the sky in a decade.
  • Many companies – Amazon, Skycatch, Aeryon Labs, and Google are investing in UAV technology. With drones deployed, the need for human laborers will significantly decrease.
More and more companies are adding robots to their workforce.

Transportation And Logistics
Jobs in transportation and logistics are specifically vulnerable to the invasion of smart machines and computerization, according to Richard B. Freeman, director of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Labor Studies Program. Such jobs require following rules, which computers can be programmed accordingly. Service occupations have already been claimed by ATMs and ticketing kiosks, leaving no room for human workers.

White Collar Professionals
Aside from performing a programmable line of work, robots and smart machines can offer judgments using sophisticated analytics and data. Freeman believes that professionals like lawyers, accountants and doctors could be potential candidates for computerization and smart machine take over.

Medical Professionals
New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center has oncologists using the Watson computer from IBM to perform several functions including:

  • Cancer diagnosis
  • Develop individual patient treatment plan

The IBM computer collects each patient’s symptoms, genetic, medical and family history; over 600,000 medical reports; 1.5 million records of patients and clinical trials; and 2 million pages of medical journal content.

Clerical Jobs In Law Firms
The same scenario is happening at large law firms. Clearwell of Symantec scans and combs through thousands of legal briefs for pretrial research. In two days, the machine can analyze more than half a million documents. Even the most dedicated and tireless law clerk can’t do that. Soon, smart machines are expected to deliver some of the other easy tasks such as crafting a simple divorce agreement or a boilerplate will.

Engineering Fields
Another industry that has been invaded by smart machine is the engineering fields of weather prediction and utilities management. A GE machine is used by the Water Works and Metropolitan Sewer Department of the Greater Cincinnati to speed up response to simple overflow conditions to complex storm predictions.

Why Replace Human Workers With Robots?
Unlike human workers, robots don’t have human needs such as sleep, food, and wages. These are the basic yet clear advantage of the smart machines over their human counterparts. Employers don’t have to deal with human emotions that often affect delivery and performance of functions or role. Robots are designed to think without bias and some economists envision them to take on the role of courtroom judges.

Looks like robots are taking over many if not all of the mid-level jobs.

With this glaring reality, you wonder, “Is there any industry not likely to be taken over by these robots?”

For those jobs lost to smart machines, will it be compensated by the jobs created by the need to manufacture, program, monitor and service those robots? And right now, disagreement is all over the place as to whether the new digital industrial economy spurs more jobs created or more jobs going down the drain.

What’s your take on this?

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1 thought on “When All Jobs Are Taken Over By Robots And Smart Machines”

  1. As IBM’s Watson proved on Jeopardy, robots are becoming smarter than people. They also make fewer mistakes and they don’t get bored. By 2013, it’s been estimated that there will be 1.2 million industrial robots working worldwide that’s one robot for every 5,000 people. You can either find it exciting or disturbing that robots are currently analyzing documents, filling prescriptions, and handling other tasks that were once exclusively done by humans.

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