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  • Writer's pictureBraxton Hoare

How Computers Could Steal Our Jobs

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In the early 1800s the world changed tremendously, factory workers ceased to have jobs as their financial security was exchanged for machines. These machines could do the same work much more efficiently than people and for a fraction of the cost. Today we face another mass industry-wide unemployment as many sectors could experience major reinvention due to the advancements in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robotics.

Major improvements have been made in the field of robotics in the last few years. A Robotics startup company called Boston Dynamics recently released its first commercial product, Spot. The Spot robot dog is capable of opening doors, carrying objects, and navigating perfectly through its environment, even avoiding moving obstacles such as people, bikes, and cars. Though an incredible achievement, robots like Spot are not the end goal, and the company is already working on humanoid versions of their original product dubbed Atlas. Boston Dynamics hopes these robots will be used in the workplace to carry heavy objects or help with construction work. Thanks to the advancements made in AI the Boston Dynamics team was able to produce robots that are both aware of their bodies and the world they inhabit. However AI is not just for powering the brains of robots, it can also be any computer program that emulates human traits such as learning or problem-solving. Specifically, the sub-category of AI most often used is called machine learning, this encompasses complex algorithms designed to teach the computer tasks the way we humans learn, through trial and error. This means that a computer can learn almost anything a human can learn given enough time. 

Anything that could be seen as boring and repetitive is perfect for a computer and could be in danger of being automated. For example, with the advancements in self-driving cars, truck drivers could risk losing their jobs when the slow-moving government legalization of self-driving technology finally goes through. Self-driving cars are already capable enough to take shipments back and forth between two locations, and once it’s made legal to have a car drive without a driver on board they could run 24/7, vastly surpassing the advantages of a human. Of course, other fields are in danger as well, construction, food service, manufacturing, retail, office administration are all predictable jobs a computer would be very capable of doing. Google’s new AI assistant aims to replace the need for a receptionist by taking calls and placing appointments as well as interacting with people in an AI-based but human-sounding way. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a reason an employer would not choose an AI over a real person when a computer could do the same work more efficiently, doesn’t take breaks, and doesn’t take a wage.

These fields will likely start to see AI introduced in the next 5-10 years and are expected to be completely AI-driven by 2030 according to current estimations. Though many jobs will be lost, new positions should also arise such as maintaining and servicing the robots. Some workplaces will only have AI or robots as a supplement to human workers, taking away some of the trivial tasks to make time for more engaging work. A lot of professionals in the field believe that after this automation of the workplace there will not be enough work available to fill the demand. It is expected that more than 20 percent of people will lose their jobs to the machines. Considering that in the great depression the number of unemployed was around 25 percent this is a big deal. Many are calling for the government to introduce UBI (universal basic income) as a solution. For those who don’t know, UBI is a proposed government program that would provide everyone with a basic income each month, currently proposed to be between one and two thousand dollars. This would help deal with the job shortage but could create its own problems as well.

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