Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Robots: Taking Our Jobs!

Today, CNN had a post about whether robots should take our jobs. First, let me say, that I doubt we will see, even in a few generations, mechanization and robotics at a high enough level that we will realistically be losing droves of repetitive jobs to robots. Because, without jobs, who is going to buy the robots? On a more serious matter, we simply don't have a self-perpetuating economy strong enough to survive without a large percentage of the population employed. A robotic workforce will require a revolutionary new economic model, one that I don't think can exist.

So, basically, self-checkout lanes, for example, can only replace so many tellers.

I can't really agree that repetitive tasks are inhumane. People are creatures of habit; routines are natural and human. Maybe, though, what the author meant is that repetitive tasks we don't like are inhumane? No one disagrees that there is something inhumane about, say, slave labor. But, filing papers and welding? Telemarketing... OK, I'll give you that one. It does suck when most of your work involves repetitive tasks; that's why you are supposed to work to live, not live to work. Break free from your 9-5 (or whatever to whatever).

As for the question (or, gasp, joke) about whether article writers are doing inhumane, degrading work? I dunno, does an aggregator link to the woods?* If you are a writer, you can make yourself more valuable than any robot. Yes, technology is overtaking the world; smartphones have replaced a suite of gadgets. Yet, it will be a long time before technology replaces humans in creative endeavors, or even most service-oriented ones, Though things like Siri mean we may be closer than I thought.

As for the economic argument, self-checkout lanes, may have impacted the ability of teens and unskilled labor to grab jobs. If there are really fewer jobs available, that is a driving factor in under- and unemployment rates. They are not getting jobs as self-checkout lane repair persons. Jobs are also not being created created in an equal ratio to those losing jobs. On top of that, the demand has yet to reach the critical level where robots can completely overtake humans as the primary bread... RAM... whatever winner.

What can people do robots can't (besides love)? Institutional knowledge is something robots just don't have. R2-D2 doesn't know where Luke keeps the staplers; sure, you can program him to know where they are supposed to go, but offices don't run on "shoulds." Of course, if Luke were also a robot...



I'd like to see a study about "robot sourcing" jobs. Does the overhead that has to go to the machines help local economies, in some way? How much does it hurt it? Will we get to have a modern Luddite movement? I wrote a really nifty epistlery short story in high school about a Luddite revolution. If we have robot overlords in the next 10 years, then I apologize.

*No. It links to the Web.

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