Automation: Cause for Concern or Celebration?

You are walking on a sidewalk in Chicago minding your own business. Suddenly, a little robot comes up to you, trying to make a sale for some product. You choose to ignore it, just like you do every other robotic salesman. When you pass the robot, another robot cuts you off to make the same sale as the first robot! You try passing this one too, but more robots appear, eventually trapping you in a circle, all of them making the same sale simultaneously. The robots have cornered you; they’ve forced your hand to buy their product. And this is only the first block of your walk.

Okay, it probably won’t be that extreme, but robots are taking over our world one by one, whether you like it or not. The world as we know it will completely change within 10 or 20 years due to the ceaseless increase of automation. 

Automation is rapidly changing the job market; millions of jobs which were once done by humans can now be done by machines. You probably already know about the factory jobs, which even basic machines can now do. But, I bet you haven’t heard of the more interesting ones like lawyers, medics or even chefs. A very major AI in making these jobs possible for automation to handle is IBM’s Watson. Watson is an AI program which is capable of analyzing hundreds of thousands of different algorithms and possibilities in a matter of seconds and then choosing the best one. Technology like this can completely change the way doctors diagnose patients. Some doctors have already taken advantage of this opportunity and used Watson or other AI programs in diagnosing conditions, one of them being cancer. Currently, Watson cannot analyze images like X-rays and retina scans, but IBM already has an active research product to expand the capabilities of its AI. Medicine is not the only industry Watson has taken over; “Chef Watson” can now generate new recipes entirely from scratch using its AI mind. It uses its incredible knowledge of mixing flavors and food chemicals to create pairings favorable to the human tongue. Add Miso Robotics Flippy, a robot capable of making food faster than some chefs, along with table delivery drones, and there won’t even be a need for humans. Imagine a whole place fully operated by robots. The thing is, it’s already here. A hotel in Japan called Henn Na Hotel is completely run by automation. From the concierge to the receptionist, every individual staff member is a robot at the human customer’s disposal. All types of other jobs including drivers, telemarketers, and financial analysts can all be taken by robots and may be taken sooner than expected. 

The problem with all this automation isn’t the automation itself, it’s what we should do with all us humans. What happens to us if robots are doing everything? The first thing most people think of is unemployment. If a machine is doing your job faster and more efficiently than you, then what is the point of you, a human, doing that job. According to a new study from Oxford Economics,

within the next 11 years there could be 14 million robots put to work in China alone.

As a result of the jobs robots are taking over, more than 1.5 million jobs have been lost to robots in the United States, more than 11 million in China, and almost 2 million across EU member states. Due to this unemployment issue, people lose jobs, and income inequality is then increased in those countries. A former 2020 democratic candidate, Andrew Yang, became famous for addressing this issue by proposing a UBI. A UBI is a universal basic income, which gives every citizen a minimum amount of income. Andrew Yang explained how automation would take many jobs away from Americans, which would leave them with no source of income. According to Andrew Yang, the UBI would allow a lower class American to support themselves with money funded by taxes and wall street speculation. 

However, there is a very compelling argument that robots will do much more good to humans than harm. After all, robots were made to make human lives easier, not harder. With all the efficiency of these robots, they can actually open up more jobs instead of only killing them. Ethical sourcing officer, Artificial intelligence business development manager, and A.I. assisted health care technician are all examples of future jobs robots will open up. Most of these future jobs are based around working with the robot like the assisted health care technician, which works with the robot to diagnose patients. The saying “A dog is a man’s best friend” could be changed to “A robot is a man’s best friend,” or maybe even, “a man is a robot’s best friend.” Another possibility for humans is the idea of not working, of growing beyond the paradigm of basic labor as a species. An architect called Buckminister Fuller had the idea of man focusing their mind purely on their creative means. He had said,

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery… The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

Fuller’s idea is even more relevant to our society nowadays because of the increasing rise of automation. If humans are losing their jobs, they can still work, not for the goal of earning money, but for the creative or personal goals they set for themselves. 

Robots and AI are beautiful works of cutting edge technology. Mankind is always looking for new ways to improve their life or to make it easier on themselves. The first robot, made in 1954, basically sparked a new life form. As automation and AI continues to grow, so will its capabilities, to the point where it may be able to think and learn by itself, going beyond its natural programming. The new life of robots is coming, for better or for worse. Will you be ready for them? 

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