Doomsayers have been talking of the machine replacing the man for ages. While that has been happening to some extent, newer jobs kept getting thrown up. But we are entering a new stage where automation may just start dominating manual labor.
When it comes to robots, a lot of people have a lot of issues. For one there is the Uncanny Valley: Near-human robots may create among onlookers “uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of eeriness and revulsion”. Then there’s the actual fear that jobs might be taken away. There were the Luddites in the early nineteenth century who smashed cotton and woolen mills along with other machines that had the potential to take over their jobs.
Here’s some food for thought. Robots taking over may not be a bad thing. For one there is the pandemic. During lockdowns and no-touch situations, it would be a boon to have robots take over the functioning of the world when it comes to manual tasks at least. A second factor is that we are going into population decline. The US, Europe, China, Japan… all are in decline. Even India and Bangladesh will stop growing soon. Every continent has gone through the growth cycle and only Africa is left.
Robots would come in quite handy in all these scenarios. There’s also the fact that progress makes us more creative. With more technology, we seem to be getting busier and busier. But that’s because the time freed up makes us want to do something else, usually something creative. That’s why the pace of inventions has only been increasing. But still, there are other jobs that may become a thing of the past.
Hospitals of the future are looking at robot receptionists, assistants and cleaners thanks to pandemic-like situations. Their success can well be repeated in other kinds of offices and institutions.
These are already being developed and perfected. It’s just a matter of time before they enter the mass production stage. Isaac Asimov’s Robotic Universe cometh? The most obvious places are factories and warehouses where they are already taking over. The basic cleaning robot has entered households. This robot will get upgraded and perform higher-level tasks in the home.
Robotic surgeries have been taking place for quite some time now and they may be expanded to include more types of surgeries. Hospitals of the future are looking at robot receptionists, assistants, and cleaners thanks to pandemic-like situations. Their success can well be repeated in other kinds of offices and institutions.
Robotic “dogs” have been helping the police break down doors in the US. The possibilities are endless. Robots may be used in sports both in something like drone racing and team games once the robots reach that fluency level. There is the issue of the robot as your best friend. That is possible and how will that affect the family and in turn the economy around it? There is also the taboo subject of sex robots.
The biggest job at threat is that of a common driver. While the technology was always there, it was only during the pandemic that all governments gave permissions to autonomous vehicles. Robotaxis (driverless taxis) are operating in cities of China and America. Driverless trucks are plying along highways.
There are autonomous delivery vehicles where you need to give a PIN or code to collect your delivery. A combination of robots, autonomous vehicles, and drones could take over the supply chain logistics system of the world. They can come in all shapes and sizes and work in tandem with each other.
Robotic Process Automation can take over the routine tasks of the office related to HR, admin, accounts, etc. Chatbots are getting better by the day. There are lights-out factories as part of Industry 4.0. Thanks to AI, robots, and bots, you can have fully functioning factories without any kind of human involvement.
Lower-level executive jobs are most under threat. A news agency managed to replace reporters with bots for routine press releases. AI is writing stories and plots, making music, and the like. It remains to be seen if one day they can match or surpass human creativity. In the medical field, AI is useful in scanning X-rays and imaging records to find patterns to both diagnose and predict. AI can be a great assistant doctor, then.
These are both full of great potential and scare-worthy. They could be used by bad state actors to foment trouble in times of war and social strife. They can spread political misinformation and muddy legal cases. They could be used for creating fake and virtual movie stars and sportsmen in virtual games. What form they will take in the multiverse is anybody’s guess.
By Sunil Rajguru