I recently saw a video, Humans need not apply, that was fantastically thought provoking. The gist of the video is that we are on the cusp of the largest economic revolution in human history: the robotic revolution.
I’ll admit, as the video points out, I hadn’t given the impact that the robotic revolution will have on higher paying jobs much consideration. My thought was always that we’ll continue to automate lower-end jobs; the ones that work with very heavy machinery and cause many people to get hurt. The ones that are difficult and costly– and, that’s true, but I never really considered what difficult and costly meant. Sure, stuffing frozen burritos is relatively costly (a person has to stuff a lot of burritos to keep the cost of each item low) and laborious, but so is neurosurgery!
People seem to have a hard time accepting that high paying jobs are also prime to be replaced by machines; afterall, who wants a robot to perform surgery on them? They might mess up. They are imperfect machines programmed by short sighted humans, right? But, then, they only have to be better than humans at their job. This simple point opens the door to a myriad high paying jobs at which machines can excel and already excelling.
Other positions that machines would be magic-on-wheels good at performing: EVERYTHING pertaining to law, medicine, science, and even building other, better machines! The days of robots that are limited by the ability of a human to teach them are soon coming to an end.
The real question is: will we be better off for it? In the short term, I’m not so sure. Robots will quickly replace humans one of the largest sources of employment in the world: transportation. Where will all these works, who are largely thought to be uneducated already, go when it happens? Could they find themselves under-educated for tomorrow’s low-skill jobs? The drain on the remainder of the economy could be huge.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that robots are going to play an increasingly important role in our lives. We will let them into our homes, into our workplaces, even into our beds! They will teach and care for our children and keep a watchful eye over us.