by Kitty Testa
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has a current exhibit called Robot Revolution which presents the most recent developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). The exhibit showcases robots that demonstrate cooperation, social intelligence, superhuman precision in manipulating objects, and superior locomotion. Developments in robotics, AI and information systems over the past decade are extraordinary. These technological achievements elicit visions from a futurist’s Utopian dreams, as explained on the gateway to the museum’s web page for the exhibit.
What’s interesting is that this intro includes the questions that every business is asking itself every day, “How could this be done better? Faster? More safely?”
These robots are real and amazing, and many of them can do our jobs better than we can.
This isn’t something new. Technology has been replacing humans for decades. Accountants and bookkeepers were among the first to be replaced by computers. In my first job for a Taiwanese television importer, we used ledger books to record transactions. Checks were typed out on an IBM Selectric II, which had the incredible ability to erase typed words with a special back space. Calculations were made with adding machines and abacuses (Yes! People used them!). We had seven people working in the accounting department. Slightly over a decade later I had a job as controller at a construction company. I had a Macintosh computer loaded with Great Plains software and two people were able to do the work of seven. Today an accounting department with seven people can serve a manufacturing operation doing hundreds of millions of dollars of business.
Microsoft Word and Outlook have displaced administrative assistants and the once-ubiquitous typing pool. The Internet has reduced the demand for librarians and put travel agents out of business. It’s just a fact that computers are making calculations and recording and retrieving data and documents than human beings are.
The #FightFor$15 movement, in combination with the quick pace of advances in robotics, will hasten the march toward the automated workplace. As reported last August on The Libertarian Republic, McDonald’s is investing in new technology in response to minimum wage hikes. Other restaurants are also implementing technologies that eliminate jobs, improve service, and enhance the customer experience at its eateries, such as ordering and paying by tablet.
While many believe that off-shoring has had the greatest negative impact on manufacturing employment, the effect of automation has been more severe. A Study at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that 88% of the lost jobs in manufacturing were taken by robots. The more wages rise, the more automation makes economic sense. Robots make fewer mistakes, don’t call in sick, follow instructions, and don’t sue you.
Referred to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the robot revolution has already eliminated much of the need for human labor—and thus jobs. As many as 5.1 million more jobs worldwide may be eliminated by automation within the next five years. While President-elect Trump boasts of all the deals he will make to bring back American jobs, you can’t put this genie back in the bottle, and I would be surprised if his recent deal with Carrier didn’t include automation as a part of the $16 million in new investment in the Indiana air conditioner plant.
This sounds awful, but it’s how progress is made. Things get worse for some and better for others. When the automobile was invented, it put a lot of blacksmiths out of work, just as electricity supplanted the lamplighters. The lamplighters couldn’t imagine that their children and grandchildren would be telephone operators and computer engineers. They in turn couldn’t imagine that their children would be app developers or robotic engineers. We can only imagine the jobs of the future, but in the meantime, you have to survive.
So how do you make the cut? How do you remain employable when your job, or your intended future profession, quite literally, goes the way of the horse and buggy? By being better, more efficient, and less costly than a robot. Here are five ways to do that.