Scallywag

I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. he told me to wear a brown tie.

~ Rodney Dangerfield ~

Will A Robot Take Your Job?

April 7th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 23 secs

Seriously, can a robot take your job?

Could Robbie Robot really steal your job? It might seem farfetched… for now. But advances in computer and robotic technology are already putting the squeeze on some job markets, suggesting maybe you should keep an eye out for some younger, more eager humanoid with a cheeky grin.

For now, unthinking robots pose a particular job risk to so-called unskilled and semi-skilled workers  (think car manufacturing, farming, engineering plants, data entry, and phone reception work) as they don’t get wages, take toilet breaks, or disappear out the back for a smoke.

Already, some large farms are seeing the advent of tractor machinery able to make ideal furrows, spray more efficiently, pick the ripest fruit, and then sort and pack it with barely a human finger lifted. Robots are taking our jobs.

There are upsides, of course. Some jobs are so dangerous (like foundry work, for example) it’s a relief letting a bunch of brawny, flexing robotic arms take the strain. Plus, robots have yet to work out how to join a union. Being quite happy to work 24-hour shifts for no pay, firms in high wage countries can cash in. Being more competitive and offering products at a price your Uncle Herb would say are almost reasonable, they could at least make things cheap.

By now, you might be thinking, “Ha! You can shove your Robbie Robots. They won’t affect me.” But is that really true? Professional people will need to adapt to fewer support staff and more automation (“Press 1 for sales, 2 for fee for service support, 3 to be connected to another electronic voice, or 4,5,6…95 to hear these options again.”). Want to sort your IT problems out? Sure, there’s an app for that. Or, go ahead and Google it… at lunchtime.

We might not be seeing a walking, talking used car-selling robot anytime soon. Nor will anything resembling the original Robbie Robot, of B-grade sci-fi movie fame, suspiciously mowing the lawn next door. But, meantime, businesses will rise on the profits of robotic and computerized “labor”.  Meanwhile, the job market might even shrink, which in turn, will have a knock on effect for everyone left.  After all, you have a job because others do. If fewer people were employed there’d be fewer folk paying for the kind of work you do.

Change being inevitable, maybe now is the time to start thinking about what kind of society we want to live in if hi-tech gets so clever it techs us out of the loop. Not that I have anything against robots (I was once rather fond of an in-car navigator in France, after all). It’s just that we need to think about the implications.

Do you feel okay about robots competing for human jobs? Hollywood actors might want to answer that too. Today, computer generated animation is mostly kid’s stuff with human dubbing. But what if, in a cinema near you sometime soon, you could no longer tell the difference between some famous actor’s bottom and that of an animation? When you start swooning over a robotic voice sounding exactly like a well-loved star, you can imagine what moviemakers will do. Coughing up millions for human actors who choke on working triple shifts or acting without 19 flavors of cola handy could well make flesh and blood celebrities something of a curiosity.

Hopefully, robots will treat us nicely and not nag us like my fridge, car, and microwave already do (especially if your closet insists on telling you what to wear: [Robot Closet: “I’d like you to wear the blue top.”] [You: “I don’t want to wear the blue top. It makes me look fat.”] [Robot Closet: “I’m telling you, wear the blue top. It’s nice.”] [You: “Hellooo, are you listening? I don’t like it.”] [Robot Closet: ”Why don’t you do what you’re told for a change? You never take my advice.”] [You: ”Okay, okay. I’ll make more of an effort.”] [Robot Closet: “And you never stop by anymore and stick your head in to see how things are going.”] [You: “Sorry?”] [Robot Closet: You’re seeing a lot of that new TV, aren’t you? That’s it. I knew this would happen. What has the TV got that I haven’t?]). Get too much of this and you might end up feeling mentally unfit for work.

In the end, however, it could come down to co-working with robots (a little like Hymie from the 1970s comedy Get Smart). That would have to be preferable to working with HAL, the disembodied 2001 computer in the next cubicle, who every time you need help, says dryly, “I can’t do that, Dave.” 

So will a robot take your job?  There’s only one way to find out. But if it does come to that, we are just going to have to adapt, remember who is boss, and do as we are told.

 

 

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