The inevitable rise of the robots

  • Millions of jobs lost due to advent of robots
  • Automated delivery drones and burger bots
The inevitable rise of the robots
 

THE robots are coming - for your jobs. By 2021, robots will have eliminated six percent of all jobs in the US, starting with customer service representatives and eventually truck and taxi drivers. That is just one takeaway from a report released by market research company Forrester.
 
But it is not all doom and gloom. Forrester forecasts automation will also create 13.6 million jobs over the next decade, equivalent to nine percent of the workforce, to yield a net job loss of seven percent in the US by 2025.
 
These robots, or intelligent agents, represent a set of AI-powered systems that can understand human behaviour and make decisions on our behalf. Current technologies in this field include virtual assistants like Microsoft's Cortana, Apple's Siri and Google Now, as well as chatbots and automated robotic systems.
 
Although they are quite simple now, over the next five years they are expected to become much better at making decisions in more complex scenarios like self-driving cars. These robots can be helpful for companies looking to cut costs, but not so good if you are an employee working in a simple-to-automate field.
 

 
“By 2021 a disruptive tidal wave will begin. Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service and consumer services,” said Forrester’s Brian Hopkins in the report.
 
The AI-driven revolution has already started. According to a recent survey, at least 45 percent of adults say that they have used at least one of the aforementioned digital concierges. Intelligent agents can access calendars, email accounts, browsing history, playlists, purchases and media viewing history to create a detailed view of any given individual. With this knowledge, virtual agents can provide highly customised assistance, which is valuable to shops or banks trying to deliver better customer service.
 
Forrester paints an interesting picture of the near future. “The doorbell rings, and it’s the delivery of a new pair of running shoes, in the right style, colour and size, just as you needed to replace your old ones. And here’s the kicker: you didn’t order them. Your intelligent agent did.”
 
One of the industries that is going to be the hardest-hit will be transportation. At the moment, companies like Nvidia, Ford, Uber, Google and Tesla are working on autonomous driving vehicles. In a few years, automated taxis will be picking up people while drones and trucks will deliver packages to the door.
 
Other industries like textile manufacturing and fast food will also be hit hard. One 'burger robot from Momentum Machines, can make a gourmet hamburger in just 10 seconds and could soon replace an entire cafe crew. You can see science fiction in action in this video.
 

 

 
So what will happen to the sizeable chunk of the population that will lose their jobs? We are likely on the cusp of a major shift in human industrial activity.
 
In his book, Rise of the Robots, Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Martin Ford says that as technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer people will be necessary. Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making “good jobs” obsolete: many paralegals, journalists, office workers and even computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots and smart software. He predicts a future where blue and white collar jobs alike will evaporate, squeezing working and middle class families ever further.
 
This is already happening in some manufacturing industries. There is now a contraption from Universal Robots that does not just solder, paint, screw, glue and grasp. It also builds new parts for itself on the fly when they wear out. In effect, it is a robot that can fix itself.
 

 

 
At the same time, households will be under assault from rising costs. According to Ford, the result could well be massive unemployment and inequality as well as the implosion of the consumer economy itself.
 
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