‘The robots are coming for our jobs’ is a mainstay assertion in the media these days, but how seriously should we take it? Do you drive a truck for a living, deal with insurance claims, lay bricks, or are you just a simple farmer? If so, the soothsayers with their eyes on the tech industry may regard you as primed for unemployment in the next few years. When McDonalds workers complained about low wages last year, the response from former CEO Ed Rensi was, “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an inefficient employee who’s making $15 an hour bagging French fries.” He made the statement after returning from a restaurant industry show where robotic devices were given a chance to demonstrate their talents. How soon will the robot revolution come, and which jobs will go first? Today we’ll find out, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Robots vs. Humans.
10: Fast Food Restaurant Worker
What robotic magic did Ed Rensi behold that was so impressive he felt human workers should be denied a pay rise? It might have been the self-serve kiosk, the machine set to supplant the human touch when we hear, “Do you want fries with that?” American burger restaurant Wendy’s announced in February that by the end of the year, it will have self-serve kiosks in a thousand of its restaurants. Fast food chains McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. will reportedly do the same, with the head of the latter company stating this year that robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late.” Your job isn’t safe in the back, either. A burger bar in San Francisco has a robotic burger-maker that can prepare and cook your burger three times faster than a human. Designed by start-up, Momentum Machines, the robot can make 400 burgers an hour. Then there’s ‘Flippy’, a robot that grills your burger and will be put to work at 50 outlets of CaliBurger over the next two years.
9: Taxi Driver
Tesla Motor’s CEO Elon Musk is so confident that machines will take so many jobs soon, that he says the only answer to job loss is a Universal Basic Income, which means everyone is given enough money to live a decent life whether they work or not. Tesla is currently working on self-driving car technology, as are multiple other companies such as Google, Uber, GM, Ford, and many more. Each company is looking to take over the self-driving taxi market, or ride-hailing market. Navigant Research rated how far each company had gotten with its tech, rating it from level one to four – with four being completely autonomous. Ford came out on top, but the auto-maker doesn’t expect its fleet of self-driving cars to be ready until 2021.
8: Bank Teller
In the near future, there won’t be much need to go into your bank. The ATM is going to become much more of a multi-tasker, according to reports, soon able to do such things as open accounts and process loans. The CEO of a software company called Diebold said the ATM of tomorrow will be able to do 90% of the work of a teller. Sadly, or perhaps not, the end of the bank teller seems to be nigh. Bank JPMorgan Chase has said right now about 60% of transactions that involve a bank teller can be performed by an ATM, but that will rise to 90% with its introduction of new ATMs in 2018.
7: Data Analysis
One of the world’s leading automation software companies, Automation Anywhere, said it’s in the process of unleashing a 3 million-strong bot workforce. Its software is used mainly for analyzing data, which could mean processing mortgages, or legal work involving cognitive software that goes through thousands of pages of documents. Such cognitive technologies are even being used by the Pentagon at present to analyze thousands of hours of drone video footage taken over Syria and Iraq. Going through huge amounts of data can be mundane work, and this is one of the first areas where robots will lend a hand. Some good news is financial services company Accenture reported this year that it didn’t lay-off one employee when it replaced 17,000 of them with robots, it just repositioned them in the company.
Whether milking a cow or picking fruit, millions of farmers are about to lose their job to a robot. Danish company F. Poulsen Engineering has designed a machine that is a lettuce weeder, a job that is back-breaking work and dangerous due to chemicals. Automated lettuce weeding will save humans from potential backaches, but also work around the clock, at a faster speed than a human, thereby saving farmers money. Speaking of lettuce, a vegetable factory in Japan called Spread grows 10 million heads of lettuce a year, and its workers are robots. Agricultural robotics, Goldman Sachs predicts, will become a $240 billion market over the next few years. Other examples include a UK project, Hands Free Hectare, that uses an automated tractor to grow crops. Stensland Family Farms in the USA has 170 cows that are all milked by robots; there are drones working in French vineyards that can inspect vines, and another machine called Wall-YE that can prune the vine every five seconds during its 10-12 hour battery charge.
An investigative journalist or a colorful features writer has nothing to worry about for now, but robots are already taking jobs away from basic report writers. Artificial intelligence already generates a small amount of content we read, and has been adopted by large media agencies such as Reuters. The Associated Press partnered with an automation firm in 2015 and its number of earnings reports went up from 300 to 3,000 a month. AP has stated it not only saves money, but the machines make fewer errors. While the role of robots writing sports reports may have been hyped, AP does use them to write Minor League Baseball stories that cover 13 leagues and 142 teams.
4: Medical Professional
Surgical robots are improving all the time, but we still need surgeons. An automated doctor can make a diagnosis by asking you to stick out your tongue, but we still need doctors. Automation, however, will vastly improve the healthcare field using algorithms to make diagnoses using quantifiable data. In total, there are about 10,000 known human diseases, and machines are now helping professionals to spot them. Hospitals all over the U.S. are using IBM Watson Health’s algorithmic magic to help diagnose cancer. Microsoft said last year it will cure cancer using its artificial intelligence, while researchers at Stanford University are currently working on algorithms to detect eye conditions by scanning thousands upon thousands of images of eye ailments in a second. It would take a human professional a matter of minutes to look at one image.
Meet SAM, the construction worker of the future. The acronym comes from semi-automated mason, otherwise known as a robot bricklayer. Designed by Construction Robotics in the USA, SAM is a competent bricklayer that can lay perfect rows of bricks and follow building plans. Its sensors and algorithms help it make sure the work is done right, and its productivity is better than that of humans. SAM lays somewhere between 800 to 1,200 bricks a day, while humans are capable of laying about 300 – 500 bricks a day. SAM isn’t cheap though, and costs one million dollars a unit. SAM isn’t alone as a robotic construction worker, with Japan right now working with automated bulldozers that use drones to tell them what to knock down. The world of the construction bot is not too far away.
2: Factory work
Your iPhone may have been made by Chinese electronics manufacturer, Foxconn, who reported last year it had laid-off 60,000 workers due to automation. It said jobs that involved repetitive tasks were the ones that went. A video that went viral this year also came from China, which showed how little orange parcel sorting robots had all but replaced humans in its postal sorting department. 300 of the machines work tirelessly for an 8-hour charge around a 21,000 square foot warehouse. In one hour, they sort 20,000 parcels together, and have helped the company, STO Express, cut down on 70 percent of its manpower. In an interview, the Chinese creator of the bots said they do five hours of human work in just three hours.
1: All jobs
From office to retail to finance to construction, many more jobs are being automated right now. Full automation of labor will take some time, with some of the world’s leading minds on automation at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute stating that there is a 50% chance that all jobs will be done by robots in 120 years’ time. This is a far-out scenario, but who knows what we will come up with. The next step would be to create Artificial General Intelligence, a virtual human that could plan, reason, joke, even teach the nuances of history. After that, there’s Artificial Superintelligence, which would be far smarter than any human. Some current A.I. experts believe that could be the end of days for us thinking flesh and blood creatures.
So, what do you think about automation? Is it the very thing the world needs right now, or is it the beginning of the end? Let us know in the comments!