Food for Thought – Leigh Currey Merrifield, Editor
I go through a surplus of e-mails each day at my office. Although many get tossed, others catch my attention, and while they may not be “news stories”, they are interesting to read. Last week, for example, I read quite a few that (sorry to say) I found a little disturbing.
It is no secret if you read “Food for Thought” on a regular basis, that I am not a particular techie fan. I continue to be amazed and, quite frankly, somewhat upset by the way people have come to totally rely on their little digital gadgets. Many folks in today’s world seem to prefer to text one another so that they don’t actually have to “speak” to one another. So much for having a conversation today! I often see people out to dinner who almost seem perturbed that giving the waitress their order interferes with playing on their gadgets! Does this make me old fashioned? Maybe so … but I still prefer talking to people one on one.
Back to the subject matter …… One thing that caught my eye in my e-mail this week was a notation that Oxford University researchers are now estimating that 47% of jobs could be automated within the next 20 years! Robotics is the “in” thing and many people in our workforce may stand to be replaced with a trained, yet artificially intelligent robot!
To quote one article … “Make no mistake: at some level, every job can (and will) be done by machine. It is not a question of if; it is just a question of when.” I suppose this means we can count on a rise in unemployment because so many will be put out of work? If this research comes to pass, that may be the case.
Do you remember the time when skilled factory workers assembled automobiles? Many of them were long ago replaced by automation. And according to research teams, factories of the future will be getting further “facelifts” because new technologies will be designed to make manufacturing more efficient and flexible and cost-saving (in some instances to the tune of more than $500 billion) for manufacturers. The only saving grace, perhaps, is that there will be man-machine partnerships and humans will still be employed to monitor what is being done robotically – and of course there will be a need for technicians to fix robots’ illnesses.
Research has gone so far as to predict some of the first and last jobs that will be eliminated. Among one of the last to be axed will be pre-school and elementary school teachers. The reason for this is that as well as robots can be trained, they will still lack humanity. They won’t be able to program a robot to provide emotional comfort to a child when needed. Certainly, we want our children to be “human” so they need to learn from a human example.
Judges were down the line as far as being eliminated as well. Why? Because regardless of a robot’s vast programmed knowledge, they must also be able to think objectively and subjectively. At this point, at least, that can’t be programmed. Mental health professionals appear at the tail end of elimination as well because of the “human understanding” factor.
HOWEVER, if you are a mid-level manager, if you are in commodity sales, if you perform tax auditing, and if you are a doctor or a news reporter or news writer … well, you top the list for being dismissed. (YIKES – wonder how long before I am eliminated?) Listing the physician was to me rather surprising, but I suppose a robot could take test results and draw an accurate conclusion about your problem, huh? And consider the fact that already surgical robotics is being utilized. Yes, the surgeon may be directing how the instruments move, but it is still robotically assisted surgery – a good example of how at least a partnership still remains necessary between man and machine.
Volkswagen is scheduled to soon reveal its driverless concept that can act as your personal robot chauffeur. They have named this design “Sedric”, and Sedric can be beckoned via a button, voice activation or a phone app. This self-driving vehicle is capable of dropping your children off at school, taking you to work, looking independently for a parking space and even picking up items you have shopped for. Personally, I don’t fully trust those dashboard camera screens that are supposed to be useful when backing up …. I sure wouldn’t trust a driverless car to cart my child or grandchild to and from activities! Guess I’m telling my age again, huh?!!!!
I understand that “Alexa” is becoming quite popular as well. Have you “met” Alexa? She is voice-activated and enables customers to interact with their devices. She can turn on the television for you and turn the volume up and down or activate your security system, etc. No offense, Alexa, but I haven’t yet become so lazy that I can’t just use my remote control to do these things! Are we lazy or what??????
I guess we are learning that robots can be programmed with all sorts of intelligence, but I doubt they will ever discover how to give them a heart and soul.
This week’s dessert: “The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.” ~ Erich Fromm