When Robots Are Not Science Fiction Anymore

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‘Rise of the machines’, ‘Robots are taking over’ and ‘AI is here to replace humans’ – don’t these sound like science fiction movie titles, which bring to mind images of human-like robots with burning eyes and hands, made of steel? And if not inspired by ‘Terminator’ movies, maybe you picture the ‘old-school looking’ robots like ‘Chappie’, who fight alongside humans with more sophisticated, but evil-tempered AI machines like ‘Ex Machina’? One way or the other, I believe that we still think about robots as imaginative concepts of the future, although they are already our present… Indeed, the above titles are taken from different newspaper articles, which discuss the very real impact of automation that we are experiencing today.

Although steal figures with burning eyes might be our primary mental representation of robots, the actual ones are much less dramatic in looks, but highly impactful nevertheless. Self-serve machines in shops, 3D printers and driverless cars are the robots of today that do the jobs people used to do, and do so more efficiently. So robots are indeed taking over jobs, and many contemplate a jobless future. For example, according to the World Economic Forum estimates, if robots replace all cashiers and retail salespersons in the US, 7.5 million people will lose their jobs. If When driverless technology will become largely available, drivers and pilots will join the unemployed. Based on McKinsey research, the Time ‘probability calculator’ estimates that there is an 85% probability for drivers and a 72% probability for pilots that their work will be done by robots.

Naturally, the same risk of replacement by automation is evident in manufacturing. Although president Trump is relentlessly scapegoating global trade, Mexico and China for a decline in US manufacturing jobs, it seems much more evident that its major cause is automation and better technology. A Ball State University study indicates that ‘almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories.’

So, already today machines are capable of doing many well-defined activities, and the array of robotic capabilities is still far from reaching its limits. For example, Richard and Daniel Susskind, authors of the book ‘The Future of Professions’, predict that even such mainstream professions as doctors, lawyers and accountants might be replaced by robots. Well, one may argue that as the job landscape changes, new jobs will emerge. Moreover, we will still need people who build, maintain and upgrade all these machines, which work instead of us, right? That would be a very comforting thought indeed… Yet, let me finish with something cited in a World Economic Forum article as a million-dollar question from Sam Harris’ Ted Talk: ‘imagine we hit upon a design of superintelligent AI… this machine would be the perfect labor-saving device. It can design the machine that can build the machine that can do any physical work, powered by sunlight, more or less for the cost of raw materials. So we’re talking about the end of human drudgery. We’re also talking about the end of most intellectual work… So what would apes like ourselves do in this circumstance?

13 thoughts on “When Robots Are Not Science Fiction Anymore

  1. I suspect some of the people I meet these days are most likely robots, or close enough not to bother making the distinction. The human race is expected to compete in a machine age, and thus behaves in a mechanical way. Working together as a team, serving corporate needs for a cleaner, brighter future, free from all emotional distraction.

  2. Reading your post makes me reminded of the idea of being “a-half robot” back ago when I was still a student of an engineering university. I just felt like it was so much easier to live a life when you are a-half robot : having no emotions at all. Because for me, when your emotions are played, you already lose. Great post.

  3. I totally agree. Living here in the US by myself, it is important to me to check back with my family. Skype enabled us to chat in a way face-to-face without spending hundreds of dollars for flights.
    this is right for people.

  4. most of the time, I don’t know if am to go in line with AI or against them. they are really of a great help to the modern world and are also competitors when it comes to the human job they are replacing. A lot of people will lose their jobs to AI it’s just a matter of time

  5. We won’t be able to stop this progress anyway so my only concern is that we don’t pay enough attention to the robots and how we handle them. We should really stick to the guide Asimov gave us years ago, one can only hope I guess.

  6. They have already done so. “Office ladies used to be a job, typing out documents for other people. With computers, people just do some of the work and let the computer do the rest.

  7. It’s not a completely true fact, to manage and maintain robots companies need more humans to control it. People are now trained for the same to maintain robots.

    It may affect jib but if you get pushed yourself to get know more about AI then you are the one in the future to get a great job.

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