Tuesday 21st February 2017
There is no robot conspiracy….
The robots are coming – coming for your job; coming to take your livelihood; coming to render you obsolete in the workplace along with millions of others….
That’s the message – delivered by politicians, pundits and luminaries as distinct as Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates….
I know you’ve seen the message. I know you read the newspapers, watch TV and use the Internet. I know you’ve repeatedly come across the stark warnings.
The robots will replace you. Intelligent machines can not only do what you do – they can do it quicker, better, cheaper, more accurately and tirelessly.
And intelligent machines are being bolted together in big numbers – ready to permanently replace you as the hired hand….
- Robots – model employees….
Robots don’t take sick days. Or holidays. They don’t require pension contributions. Their attention isn’t focused exclusively on the next pay rise.
They don’t need a car-parking space. Or wheelchair access. They don’t even require you to hang a coat peg.
They don’t make a fuss about health and safety. If a robot gets damaged, it gets repaired or replaced. There’s no lawyer offering the robot a ‘no-win-no-fee’ deal to chase the employer for compensation….
Robots don’t need notice to put in overtime. You can work them as mercilessly as a Victorian mill-owner would. They go around the clock. They don’t slack off. They don’t complain. They don’t waste valuable time and diminish productivity levels….
In many respects robots make ideal employees. You just push the button and they keep on running until you shut them down again.
And you can get rid of robots whenever you want. You don’t need to jump through employment-law hoops. Nobody’s going to hit you with an unfair dismissal claim….
- Merciless destruction of real livelihoods ahead….
The robots are coming to replace you. That’s the message the media incessantly repeats.
The World Economic Forum expects 5 million human jobs to disappear by 2020….
The Institute for Public Policy Research claims 15 million British jobs will go over the next two decades….
Bank of England chief Mark Carney also believes robots will put 15 million Britons on the scrapheap. That’s almost half the current British work-force….
There was no sugar-coating the pill. No well-worn euphemisms like ‘phased-out’ or ‘natural wastage’.
Carney deployed graphic terms. He said those 15 million livelihoods – jobs that pay bills and put food on tables – will be ‘mercilessly destroyed’.
There will always be jobs. Particularly for the highly-skilled. But many of the bread-and-butter jobs that lower-skilled and lower-educated workers rely on will disappear. It’s already happening….
- Robots – muscling into every sector….
Intelligent automobiles don’t need drivers. Drones can deliver packages without human assistance.
Robots are stronger than humans. They can bear more weight, work faster and do it for longer.
They thrive on repetitive tasks. And they always get it right. They don’t tire. Performance levels don’t drop. You can’t work a robot to death. It is designed to be exploited.
Robots are taking over work traditionally done by humans in factories and warehouses, in retail, on farms, in shipping and on the streets.
In one San Francisco cafe, robots serve coffee. Here in Britain, automated tills are making check-out assistants obsolete. Machines dispense tickets in train stations and car-parks.
Soon, trains, buses, trams and taxis will be extensions of robots – unmanned and intelligent. Planes and ships too. One man – or one intelligent machine – will fly dozens of craft simultaneously from a single location.
Robots have been defusing or detonating bombs for years. Next, they will be building houses, thinning out woodland, maintaining motorways and handling food production on farms and in glasshouses….
- Not just strong – but smart….
Robots are smart too. Intelligent machines can do surgical work, they can run investment funds, they can write website content, they can handle customer service functions….
Soon, they will be representing you in court, handling your passport application, working as your personal assistant, translating documents from one language to another….
They will even be working on your mental health. Intelligent bots are already being used to monitor the mental health of juveniles on social media sites – and with some success.
Younger people find it easier to talk to machines than humans….
Intelligent machines become more sophisticated every day – learning new skills and mastering new tasks….
Last month a machine beat human poker players for the first time. Libratus, an intelligent machine built by Carnegie Mellon University, beat professional players in a tournament in Philadelphia.
Poker was the last game in which humans had maintained an upper hand. Now, intelligent machines can reason more effectively than humans when information is imperfect or incomplete.
In the future, intelligent machines and their problem-solving algorithms will secure better outcomes in business negotiation, military strategy, cyber security and medical treatment – putting their human predecessors out of the game.
- Taking over the bedroom….
It’s not just new games where the robots have the future sewn-up….
At January’s International Congress of Love and Sex with Robotics, Dr. Trudy Barber, an expert in the relationship between technology and sexual intercourse, predicted that married couples will only have sex on special occasions in the future, using robots to satisfy day-to-day needs….
That’s a whole new multi-billion-dollar leisure industry right there….
You don’t need me to point out the routes down which that product or service will develop….
Pornography is a worldwide industry worth tens of billions. Sex-toy catalogues would once have been sent through the post under plain cover. Now they are sold on TV – like breakfast cereal and online casino games.
We live in a brave new world and intelligent life-like machines providing fantasy-fulfilment on a no-strings and ‘safe’ basis might very well be the next ‘must-have’ product that achieves mass-market penetration. I wouldn’t bet against it….
- A crucial distinction….
Of course, the way the ‘rise of the robots’ is being presented is a nonsense….
Robots are talked of as if they are a group with an agenda. As if there’s some plan being cooked up by a league of intelligent machines.
But there is no secret robot cabal. There are no robots meeting in clandestine locations and plotting to take over the world – starting with your job.
Businesses are behind the drive to out-source human jobs to machines. It’s happening because technology makes it possible and businesses see the potential bottom-line benefits of replacing human beings with machines.
Robots are not waging war and plotting to take your job. Robots don’t plot. They don’t know you or your job exist.
Robots are not people (at least not yet – though that may be coming). Robots are simply new tools – tools designed, owned and put to work by industry.
If the jobs of 15 million British humans are to be put to the sword over the next two decades, it is because the businesses that currently employ those humans believe their products and services will be better and more profitable if those human beings are replaced by intelligent machines.
If those 15 million jobs are to be lost, it is the result of business decisions. Not some robot conspiracy. But you wouldn’t know it from reading the press.
The stream of ‘the robots are coming’ headlines and stories are a nonsense. The robots are not coming – as if of their own accord. Big business is bringing them. Big business wants them there.
The headlines don’t explicitly reinforce that fact. But It’s a crucial distinction….
And one that points the way to a scenario where robots don’t take over the world of work – at least not all of it – after all.
More on that next week.
That’s how it looks from here….
I’ll be back with more next Tuesday morning.
All the best,