The impact of machines and technology on the workforce has always been a rallying cry of pessimist and alarmist but the numbers currently depict a more immediate threat. Estimates from Frey and Osborne suggest that 47% of the workers in the U.S. are at risk of being replaced with machines, 35% in the U.K. and as many as two-thirds of workers in developing countries by 2025. Forrester, a market research company stated that by 2021 6% of all jobs in the U.S. will be done by robots. There are currently around 1.7 million robots already in use in various industries today, granted most of these robots go to places humans can not.
Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Humans
Advances made in Artificial Intelligence has made it possible to create versatile robots that will be able to take over numerous types of manual labor. Robots are now sets of AI-powered systems that can be used to read situations and make decisions, they are intelligent agents. Technologies in this field currently include Siri, Cortana, Google Now and Alexa. These modern AI are fed plethora of images and data in order to train them to recognize trends and patterns.
Spotting similar patterns, they then use this information to make decisions when faced with new data. Blue River manufactured a weeding machine that is able to pick its way through a field and avoid destroying the planted crops. In 2017 Amazon and Google bought two warehouse robotics companies and some robots are already in use at Amazon stacking shelves. Rethink Robotics has just completed a 25,000 dollar robot that is helping breakthrough computer vision. Baxter, the robots name, has been designed to move about and handle a number of tasks. This is a prelude to the threat faced by blue collar workers. Baxter works at loading trucks or hauling hefty packages in the warehouse. The technology race and investment by companies like Google could end the belief that low skilled manual work is too complicated for robots and impossible to automate.
It is essential for today’s’ workers to learn how to work together with robots. Ideally, machines should allow humans to leave the tedious work and focus on the rewarding part of their work. The problem with this is the downsizing of the humans’ wages since the machines are accomplishing most of the hard work. The positives are that there is still a lot of work that can only be done by humans and not a machine. Humans can also be creative and this is where they gain the upper hand. A machine can perform the same task numerous times without deviating from the set standard but a human may find a more creative method. Ocado is working on a project that perfectly highlights how machines and robots can interact with the work environment. They created a robotic assistant called SecondHands that can lift items higher than a human can but it is a simple robot and is lead by a human technician who can use all the benefits of the arm.
As stated at the outset, the problem of technology competing with humans in the workforce is an old one but it is worth noting that everytime technology makes a certain type of work obsolete the workforce adapts. In 2016 a report by Deloitte showed that for over 140 years technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. This suggests that the loss of jobs in the traditionally blue-collar jobs will probably be offset by job growth in the white collar areas. This is of little comfort to blue-collar workers with limited skills but it is the reality.