Who We Are
Mankind has been blessed with abilities far beyond those of the rest of the animals that inhabit this bright blue ball of gas. We’ve arguably evolved into the most superior life-form there is, here or anywhere (that we know of). We’ve always been a species of curiosity, innovation and invention. We’ve also learned to “stick to our guns” and continue to labor and try and make things that ultimately give us a better life. It’s in our nature to be pursuant on how things work, how they could work, how they should work and to make them work better. While cruising through my social media stream today I happened upon a shared YouTube video from PBS NewsHour. In this eight minute broadcast there is discussion around robotics and the future of the American workforce. I chose to substitute American workforce (in my headline) with the “worlds” workforce because robotics plays a role on a global scale. Go ahead and take eight minutes and watch the PBS report and then join me on the other side.
Robotics Make Things Better
It’s hard to imagine a life without automation. We’ve grown up with machines doing much of the manual work for us, and we’ve taken advantage of those machines not only bolstering our economies but also making life better for a great deal of people. From windmills to the automobile, automations growth has exploded into all areas of our lives. With automation came new jobs, from service jobs to engineers. The job range ran the gambit. Automation made already established jobs easier for the workforce, such as farming and manufacturing, and created new jobs in new fields, such as computers and micro-technology. Robotics, in its lowest form, was the automation of the late 19th and early 20th century that built cities like Detroit and Chicago.
Fast-forward to just ten years ago (maybe even a bit further back) and you now have automation improving and evolving into modern day robotics. While automation was amazing in its own right, robotics has taken things to another level. Robotics takes the automated machine and gives that machine the ability to carry out specific commands and react to the world around it quickly and precisely. In the days of plain automation you had your on and off buttons, forward and reverse and kill switches. Now you have the ability to have these machines carry out tasks a human could do with little supervision or monitoring and also interact with the humans they’re servicing.
Many believe that robotics are the future of what’s to come, a world where robots service the needs of humans which will, in turn, increase the productivity of our people and also cut down on many of the things that we do to pollute our earth. Robotics have potential to help in many ways, such as medicine, caring for the sick and venturing into situations that may be dangerous to a human caregiver, to construction, moving, lifting and building the infrastructure of tomorrow. There is, without a doubt, a future in robotics and one from which we could potentially reap wonderful benefits.
Robotics Could Damage Us As A Society
Now that we know the great things the future of robots may hold for us as a species, what about the flip side? What potential damage could robotics hold for the future of the world’s workforce? In our heads and on our computers we’ve constructed the amazing achievements mankind can likely reach in the near future through robotics. So if we’re building a future of robot service, machines that will perform tasks that humans used to perform, where does that leave an entire segment of workers? Examples in the video point to robotics taking over service jobs in retail stores as well as a simple golf caddy.
Even fast food chains are experimenting with automated ordering which is eliminating jobs that were once held by lower wage workers. How long before the workers cooking and assembling the food are replaced with robots? True there is a lot of political and monetary motivation behind these recent replacements, but that doesn’t mean robotics isn’t going to be used for those reasons in the future. There has even been talk of replacing some nursing jobs with robots, and that role pays significantly better than a fast food cashier. So where does the robot workforce leave the human workers they are replacing? How do those without higher learning survive in a robot world?
We Have To Find A Balance
Right now we’re in the early stages of robot innovation and application. It’s easy to say let’s let the robots do all that they can do and it’s easy to see the cost savings to companies in that. Companies see the upfront investment as worth it over the life of an employee whom you have to pay, insure, and give vacation and sick leave to. Robots are likely going to be stronger, faster and more efficient than their human counter-parts. But do we have a moral obligation to our fellow human beings to be sure the less skilled aren’t left to the elements?
We’re going to see much worse income inequality, unless we take some humanitarian actions. The truth is they’re going to starve, live in poverty and die. ~Jerry Kaplan~
In the pursuit of making life better for ourselves, could we be making life worse for others? It’s a heavy question and one I think needs to be discussed and pondered. While it’s true that mankind has evolved into arguably the most intelligent animal on the planet, not all of us have the same skills or intellect as the other. Even in the far future where you and I will not be, there will be those who are less skilled and less intelligent. But less skilled and less intelligent does not equate to being worth any less, at least in my view. The evolution of robot automation of services and skills once held by humans needs further and deeper evaluation. It needs the companies and researchers behind the technology to put on their human hat for a minute and think about the implications for everyone, not just a select few. Technology is a great thing and it has helped countless people through countless things. But there comes a point where technology’s impact might have negative effects, and we have to come together to make sure that technology is serving everyone throughout our society, not just those with the skills to survive.
I want to hear your voice in this conversation. What do you think of robots and our future? What do you think should be done to keep balance in our society? Let me know in the comments below and share this article with your friends and family so they can be part of the conversation too.