At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Toshiba unveiled Chihira Aico, a female robot, so realistic she could have, at first glance, been mistaken for a human. She talks and sings, complete with facial expressions and arm movements. She could be the face of the future of half of our labor force, as scientists continue to bridge the gap between artificial intelligence and neuroscience to automate our jobs and cut labor costs. It’s expected that 2 billion occupations will be lost to robots in fifteen years, according to a report carried out by Oxford researchers.
Web entrepreneur Andrew Keen, believes the middle class will suffer, while a new elite will make big financial gains from robots dominating the employment market. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, he remarked “Sure there are going to be a few brilliant entrepreneurs who will become multi-millionaires or billionaires but what we are seeing is the sweeping away of the middle, the hollowing out of the middle. That’s the nightmare of this technological revolution. The low end will be fine, the middle class is going to be decimated, and there will be a new elite, an elite who are able to work with computers, who will make massive profits from it.” Asked what kind of jobs are under threat, he warned: “Middle class jobs – teachers, lawyers, doctors, experts – the traditional 20th century meritocracy is about to be swept away.”
The takeover will likely happen in two stages: first computers will replace transportation and production labor and administrative support, eliminating jobs in sales, services and construction. Then, with the development of advanced artificial intelligence, jobs in management, science, engineering and the arts are likely to be at risk of replacement.
Here we take a look at some of the jobs robots are already designed to do (arguably better than you).
Two hospitals at the University of California, San Francisco are leaps ahead, currently employing robots to manage medication orders and retrieve and package the doses. Since 2011, the robots have prepared more than 350,000 doses so far without a single error.
We can already self-check out at stores, and now scientists have designed robot sales associates to assist customers locate items on a shop floor, ring up their goods at the cashier, all while being able to communicate with them in several languages.
Pilots And Drivers
So far, classroom robots have proven successful in tackling the various levels of behavioral education and cognitive learning. In Birmingham, England, a robot named Nao helps teach children with autism. Because a robot has no concept of personal space or social interactive norms, the robot can teach without triggering a chain of unsuccessful social reactions. Here in the United States, a robot named RUBI runs through repeated exercises to teach foreign languages to preschoolers in California.
One law firm is already reported to be using software that can take care of the legal review process in approximately a third of the time it would take a human. It has also been suggested that robot technology is almost becoming a necessity citing to the tremendous jump in data lawyers due to texting and emails.
Nannies And Nurse Aides
Japanese firm Softbank is already selling Pepper, a personal robot who can read human emotion and act as an all-in-one babysitter, nurse and friend. The robot has been pitched in Japan as a solution to labor shortages in a country with a rapidly ageing population.
How Does The Future Look For Our Workforce?
Not all commentators believe the future of employment will be unpromising, some believe that new industries will pop up and more economic wealth will be discovered. Some even believe the uprise of their robots will actually create more jobs for us while boosting our economy. Peter Sondergaard, SVP and Global Head of Research at Garner, predicts that by 2017 the big skills will focus on smart machines (including the Internet of things), robotics, automated judgment, and digital ethics, and by 2020 there will be a surge in specialized jobs.
Only time will tell exactly what long term impact artificial intelligence will have on the workforce, and what it will mean for future education and career development. For more insight on this from industry experts, watch a recent video debate hosted by BBC World News entitled: “Be afraid, be very afraid. The robots are coming and they will destroy our livelihoods” here.