Do robots and AI make you feel obsolete?

11 Aug 2015

Those immortal words of Victor Meldrew (from TV series ‘One Foot in the Grave’) immediately came to mind after reading a ZDNet article titled ‘No, AI won’t eat your job, say tech chiefs, and here’s why.‘ The article quotes those ‘tech chiefs’ as saying that robots will not take jobs away. Who are they kidding?

The opening gambit says it all, “Fears that artificial intelligence will munch through our job prospects and leave us slumped on the scrap-heap may be overblown, according to tech chiefs.”

When asked whether they thought the emergence of artificial intelligence would have negative consequences for employment, the panel of tech decision makers voted ‘no’ by a margin of eight to four. What planet could these gurus have descended from?

Only last week came a report from China that a factory assembling mobile phone components had replaced 650 staff with robots. The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan, China, has not only replaced 90% of its human workers with robots it is now producing three times as much product! There are now only 60 human employees with the aim to cut this further to just 20 staff.

Let’s get this into perspective. This is the country that has already devoured many of the world’s factory jobs and is now handing them over to robots. Sure, we are talking here of assembly line jobs, but those robots are putting a lot of people out of work, nevertheless.

Western economies that had previously lost jobs to the Chinese manufacturing behemoth are now wondering why they can’t bring manufacturing back home using the same technology. But what about all the people already out of work and the many more that may soon join them?

Florentin Albu, CIO at Rothamsted Research, was quoted in the ZDNet piece as saying: “I do not believe that the emergence of AI will have significant impact on employment in the next 10 years.” Meanwhile, David Wilson, IT manager at VectorCSP, said: “Any new technology creates a whole new workforce to support it.”

Really, are these experts representative or even aware of what is happening in the real world. Go to any car assembly plant in the world and count the humans – it won’t take long. And if they can manage 650 robots with a staff of 20 what new support workforce was Mr Wilson talking about?

Artificial Intelligence is in our smartphones, appliances and soon will be massing together in the IoT world. IBM’s Watson is making inroads into healthcare. Siri answers all your inane questions and your car will soon be driving itself. Apart from a handful of techies maintaining them and programmers making them smarter I can’t see many new jobs emerging at all.

It then begs the question – what do we do with all the unemployed people? I suppose we could ask the ‘soon to be highly profitable’ staff-less businesses to share their profits to feed the unemployed, or simply have everyone on benefits – at least until countries become bankrupted. Maybe we could tax each robot like we do workers – oh, hang on, robots don’t get paid anything.

I’m hoping ZDNet, or somebody can answer these questions because it is inevitable that robots and artificial intelligence will cost us many millions of jobs and hopefully replace some of these ‘tech experts’ that cannot see what is blindingly obvious to we mere mortals.

I personally hope to do better than poor old Victor Meldrew who became bitter and twisted after he himself had been infamously replaced by a ‘box’ at his place of employment – but I doubt it.

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