Robots Are Not The Enemy

handshakerobot-617x416Many people grow up with a set of goals in mind.  These goals may include traveling the world, owning a beautiful home, or getting married and having kids.  However, the most important goal that almost all people have in common is to attain a good, steady job so that they can live a comfortable life.  Many people would agree that landing a secure job with decent pay is not always an easy feat.  By the year 2025, technology experts say that robots will have joined the workforce.  What kind of affect these robots will have on the job market is a question definitely worth considering.In this digital age, many of us can agree that technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives and that it has brought an abundance of amazing changes.  Although the idea of the unknown can be frightening, continual change is needed in a progressive society such as ours.  I can honestly say that technology and automation has drastically improved many areas of my life by saving me valuable time and resources.  For instance, innovations such as the laptop and Roomba vacuum have turned doing homework and cleaning into a quicker, more enjoyable process for me.  Since technology opens up an array of opportunities for different types of labor, the emergence of robots into our workforce is nothing to fear.  Instead of taking jobs away from us, robots will create new and exciting employment opportunities and assist us in making our everyday lives easier.

Pew Research conducted a project in which 1,896 technology experts predicted how robotics would change the future job market.  Experts were asked, “The economic impact of robotic advances and AISelf-driving cars, intelligent digital agents that can act for you, and robots are advancing rapidly. Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?” The results show that 48 percent of experts feel robots will take away more jobs than they create while 52 percent disagree with this statement. 

People who support the emergence of robots stress that we will adapt naturally to changes over time and that these new advances in technology will create new industries, thus creating more jobs where people can even collaborate with robots.  Advancements throughout history such as the cotton gin, steamship, telephone, and internet have always generated more good than bad.  Celia Pearce, associate professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology states, “Although they certainly shift and disrupt the labor ecosystem, if you look at the total net effect, history does not bear out the myth that technology replaces people. First, people make technology, and since technology becomes obsolete at an increasingly accelerated pace, the need for people who make it will only grow; second, people are required to maintain technology—technology is notoriously poor at taking care of itself; third, people are also required to assist other people in using technology; and fourth, most technology requires new labor forms.”   We have seen this happen first handedly with the evolution of cell phones.  Nokia phones turned into flip phones that turned into touch screens and smart phones.  When my parents got their first smart phone about a year ago, there were classes with instructors to teach them how to use their phone easily and efficiently.  At the Apple Store, there is a learning station where an instructor teaches people how to use their laptop in the most effective way.  Every surge of automation and technology we have experienced thus far has brought efficiency, greater productivity, and increased opportunities to the human race.  Internet access for example, gives people from all around the world the opportunity to connect with each other, look up a place to eat, even take an online class. Jeff Burnstein, Robotic Industries Association President stated “In 2010, after one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history, unemployment in the U.S. was nearing 10 percent. Since then, amidst record years for robot sales, unemployment has steadily fallen toward pre-recessionary levels. The unemployment rate reached 6.1 percent in June of this year, the lowest it has been since September of 2008.” 

Opponents of this idea argue that humans will be replaced with robots in large corporations to cut costs.  Even if new jobs are created by robots, the bulk of these jobs will lack security and pay a low wage unless a person is highly skilled in robotics.  An article by Motherboard also warns that only the best educated humans will be able to compete with these robots. If this is true, what will happen to those of us who cannot afford to go to college? All of us are aware that a high quality education does not come cheap. According to a 2013 Oxford study highlighted in another article by Motherboard, 85 of the richest people in the world have as much money as the poorest half of the world, 3.5 billion people. Furthermore, the study predicts that 47 percent of current jobs will most likely be automated in the next two decades. Employing robots will allow the rich to become even richer if they no longer have to employ other humans. The article points out that, “Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook were worth over $1 trillion combined, but employed just 150,000 people.”  Vytautas Butrimas, who is described by Pew as a chief advisor to a major government’s ministry states, “Robotics and the assembly line have been with us for a long time. The jobs are still there but they now require more specialized training and skills. It seems there is a decline in general education while the elites continue to become more educated and more likely to get the high level jobs. The divide between the educated and less educated is growing wider. By 2025 we will have experienced our first major social unrest from this.” Supporters of the employment of robots reason that human labor will always be in demand because humans are able to reach each other through a type of compassion that robots will always lack.  Because robots can’t be made to possess the same unique qualities that humans have, they can’t provide many services at the same caliber a human can.  Robots can’t provide a human touch nor can they create a deep, lasting emotional connection with humans.  Jobs like nursing, teaching, and care giving require a type of empathy, emotional support, and encouragement that robots can’t provide.  

Further support for the robotics industry is already being shown in different parts of the country. The city council of Coeur d’Alene in Idaho unanimously passed an ordinance that allows robots to be used in public areas as long as they meet the standards established by the council.  Although Coeur d’ Alene is the first city in the country to do this, people may be able to expect similar laws in other cities now that interest in the robotics field is steadily growing.  Fortune even gives us insight into a family robot named Jibo who “is able to see, hear, speak, learn, and help families with a variety of tasks around the house.”  Jibo is able to take pictures with face recognition, place calls, order takeout, and remind parents to pick up their kids from school. Jibo’s creator Dr. Cynthia Breazeal assures “Jibo isn’t meant to be a caregiver for aging people or a replacement for human labor. The robots are meant to help older users age independently. Jibo is about empowerment and helping people do what they want to do and what they need to do…its not about replacing people.”  Forbes goes on to report that a robot that can fold itself like an origami has been created by a team of Harvard and MIT researchers.  The robot can assemble itself into a variety of different shapes in four minutes.  The robot can easily be stored, only takes an hour to build, and has a low cost of $100.  Although this particular robot can only assemble itself for now, researchers foresee a future in which people can request to have a certain type of robot built to assist them with individualized needs.  BBC News also reports that London’s Tate Britain Museum is the first in the world to have four robots roaming their halls after hours. This project allows art enthusiasts to view centuries of British art even after the museum has closed for the night.  People will be able to see live footage of the art and control where the robot moves through the museum’s website.  Employing robots for this purpose shows us that we have nothing to worry about.  Instead of replacing someone’s job, these robots are creating an experience that is the first of its kind.  This project has actually led to new job opportunities for humans who control the robots and provide live commentary on the artwork. This gives people from all around the world an amazing opportunity to view historic pieces of work in the comfort of their own home.

New advances in technology will makes our lives better and create a newfound enthusiasm for life.  Robots like Jibo, who I previously mentioned, will help us with tasks that allow us the convenience to focus our attention on quality time with family and friends.  NBC News points out that even if driverless cars take away some of the jobs of taxi drivers, these automobiles may lessen accidents and make it easier for the elderly and disabled to travel.  David Hughes, a retired U.S. Army Colonel says, “…I don’t think all ‘self-driving’ cars will be totally unmanned. The human’s ability to detect unexpected circumstances, and take action overriding automatic driving will be needed as long and individually owned ‘cars’ are on the road.”  Robots and humans in this case would be working together to provide a quality experience unlike ever before. 

The one thing that all experts who took the Pew survey can agree on, is that changes to education must be made immediately.  Schools must find a way to keep up with continual technological advances and will need to prepare students by putting more of an emphasis on math and science.  Nonetheless, the most important thing for all of us to remember is that humans are the ones with the power to decide how robots behave and what kinds of jobs they will be responsible for in the future.  This issue is of great importance to every person alive on this earth because it has the potential to affect us all.  If anything, it would be an understatement to say that all of us have new and exciting changes to look forward to.


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