How Soon Will Technology Replace Our Jobs?
We’ve all seen the headlines, watched the robot movies, and discussed over a meal the impact that technology has on society, but what do experts really know? These articles with catchy headlines are tempting to click and skim, but they are dangerous to believe because every company is constantly spitting out different facts, references, and data sets. This data about automation and robots is faulty because they are being released by several different institutions, think tanks, companies, and researchers. Predictions can range from life-shattering to really optimistic, but it’s hard to say since each industry is dependent on technology in different ways.
For example, we know that the automobile industry will be impacted in a different way than the fashion industry because autonomous vehicles are becoming a thing of the present. A popularly-cited 2013 Oxford study indicates that 47 percent of US jobs are at high risk of automation in the upcoming decades. Globally, the OECD study hints at a 9 percent automation takeover.
In computer science, artificial intelligence, oftentimes referred to simply as “AI,” is intelligence demonstrated by machines as opposed to humans. Programmed to perceive and calculate environmental agents, it is meant to build and learn, rather than having a cap on its data. AI is meant to be adaptable, and to grow as its environment or data changes. The AI fear is that robots will be programmed to become more and more intelligent, to the point where they will replace humans in the job field, but the future of AI is actually a bright and curious one. They may replace some blue collar jobs, which some cultures have already been experiencing with robotic service workers. This replacement has already been happening without the help of AI, such as self-service checkouts at supermarkets and grocery stores, or fast-food chains like McDonald’s. This is probably where machine replacement of human service work is seen first.
As aforementioned, the process of job replacement by technology differs from field to field. Machines exist that can fold clothes (developed at the University of California at Berkeley), but it took the robot six minutes to fold a t-shirt. Could this new development replace all laundromats? Of course not now, but the development is not as fast as media makes us believe. Machine capabilities take a long time to process, and the key to automation is mass-production. A robot that can fold laundry can peacefully exist in a lab or studio, being tinkered and tailored by engineers and scientists for years, but if this process started a few years ago, it’s going to take a lot of time to develop into perfection, then become manufactured for the masses in a cheap way that is financially comparable to hiring somebody to fold laundry. In short, the process of automation is slow, and it takes a lot more than a prototype to become implemented throughout a society, a practice, or a company.
It would be wrong to also discount usability. Maybe a robot could be programmed to help you try on clothes at a shop, but would customers prefer a metal clump to assist and ask questions, or a friendly human to greet and welcome a customer into the store? Ditto for buying clothes in a virtual shop, as virtual reality is proving to have more applications than we ever imagined. Scientists and data cannot account for user experience in a way that is impactful. It is still somewhat of a mystery on how much consumers prefer human interaction as opposed to robots, AI, or virtual reality. Google is preparing their new line of smart devices that will act as assistants, learn a user’s daily routines, and reflect this knowledge by helping throughout the day and night. Maybe society’s trust of cell phones are the most easily trusted machines that will become most AI incorporated.
Although consumers are able to find predictions from trusted online newspapers and sources, there are hundreds of experts in both the technology and economy fields that are making great conclusions about job replacement in an increasingly AI world. Nobody is in exact alignment with each other’s findings, understandings, or solutions, so it is still a mystery. It can be said that technology will definitely replace certain jobs across most fields within the next few decades, but a huge and noticeable shift in the job market will probably not happen as quickly as media makes us believe.