May 20, 2014

SAVING US ALL FROM DRUDGERY:

Could a robot do my job? Probably, but I'm still optimistic (John Aziz, 5/20/14, The Week)

The word robot comes from the Czech robota, meaning "drudgery" or "servitude." Robots are -- by definition -- machines created to perform tasks human workers would rather not do.

And yet there are two sides to this. As robots become more sophisticated and better at doing things deemed too boring, dangerous, or expensive for humans, they may endanger something that most of us rely upon: paying jobs.

When I go to the supermarket, I often use the automated checkout. I follow the instructions of the disembodied voice -- to scan my item, to place it in the bag, and then to insert my card and pay. It sometimes becomes confused about where I have placed the item, and needs to be reset by a human attendant, but otherwise it runs smoothly, customer after customer. The supermarket doesn't need to pay it a wage. It only needs to pay for the hardware, and then pay one attendant to watch over four or six automated checkouts.

And this pattern isn't just playing out for cashiers -- it's playing out for food servers, bank tellers, telephone operators, receptionists, mail carriers, travel agents, typists, telemarketers, stock market traders. And the next target? Office workers. As Randall Parker, Professor of Economics at East Carolina University, recently wrote: "Robots and other automated equipment have increased factory automation so much that factories are a dwindling source of all jobs. The next big target for automation has been and continues to be office work."

One recent study suggested up to 80 percent of jobs could be automated, leading me to ask a question many are probably asking themselves: are robots coming for my job?

Not fast enough. Posted by at May 20, 2014 2:36 PM
  
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