Dystopian future arriving fast as robots steal human jobs

Xiyu Wang Feb 2, 2014
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Someone should tell the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon to stop being so good at their jobs — or else we may lose ours.

As robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated and intelligent, they also increasingly encroach upon occupations that were once primarily performed by people. Last year, a research study from the University of Oxford found that robots may take over 45 percent of current American jobs within the next twenty years.

Though machines were once limited in capability and known for replacing menial, unskilled occupations in factories, robots today are armed with speech and pattern recognition, the extensive capacity to collect and store data, and lightning-quick processing speeds. Those skills alone makes quite an impressive résumé, but moreover, robots have no tendency to show up to work late, demand a raise, or slack off on the job. It’s easy to see why companies are gradually replacing secretaries, bank tellers, phone operators, and logisticians by programming code and bringing in machines.

Robots are even being programmed to drive cars, write newspaper articles, babysit children, and yes, fight for the country. According to Popular Science, General Robert Cone revealed that the military is considering replacing a fourth of a unit of soldiers with robots and drones by 2030. In many ways, robots may make our lives more efficient. But what about the people who are doomed to lose their jobs?

Not to worry! As argued by Wired magazine, the coming age of automation will eventually create loads of new jobs, much like how the Industrial Revolution completely changed economies around the world. For instance, we will surely need more psychiatrists to help all the people that will become depressed over their unemployment.

However, at least in the short- term, automation seems to be destroying more jobs than it is creating. Schussel family professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management Erik Brynjolfsson argues in The New York Times that because digital labor is a substitute for human labor, employment can no longer rise along with increases in productivity.

Furthermore, America’s education system does not do nearly enough to prepare workers for a future economy in which highly skilled jobs, such as programming and engineering, will be more prevalent, according to Brynjolfsson. College is already becoming the new high school, and those who do not have the means to afford a university education are, at best, stuck working in low-wage jobs, and at worst, left unemployed.

There is also a long-term problem looming over our heads: at some point in the future, machines will most likely surpass humans in intelligence. The fundamental difference between the machines of the Industrial Revolution and the machines of the future is that robots might eventually replace humans entirely. While machines may make the economy more productive, what will happen to humans when machines can do everything we can do, only better?

Thankfully, the time to swear allegiance to the robot overlords has not yet arrived, but it is important to note that technological advancement does not guarantee a better outcome for everyone, especially for those who cannot keep pace with it.