Australian T3 - - FRONT PAGE - words: si­mon parkin

a world of to­tal au­to­ma­tion, with ro­bots tak­ing care of our chores and leav­ing us free to live a life of leisure, may have seemed like a sci-fi utopia. ex­cept, now it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing, for many the dream is turn­ing into a job­less nightmare. T3 asks: where have all the people gone?

Sci-fi dream­ers of the 1950s, from Isaac Asi­mov to Arthur C. Clarke, en­vi­sioned a fu­ture in which smart ma­chines would per­form me­nial tasks for their smug hu­man overlords. Au­to­mated fly­ing cars would deliver 21st-century men and women to their pris­tine des­ti­na­tions where ro­bot chefs would pre­pare meals, then sweep up the de­tri­tus. We would be made re­dun­dant in the best pos­si­ble sense. But in life, as in fic­tion, the re­al­ity is less at­trac­tive, and the ro­bots are seiz­ing con­trol.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to hu­man­ity’s bright­est minds, the next two decades will see the rise of the ro­bots al­ter so­ci­ety fun­da­men­tally. The revo­lu­tion is un­der­way.

Ro­bots have been com­ing over here and tak­ing our jobs for decades, most ob­vi­ously on fac­tory lines, where car, food and gad­get-mak­ing hu­manoids have been re­placed by ma­chines sys­tem­at­i­cally; ma­chines that don’t re­quire toi­let breaks or the free­dom to form a union. It’s not just the blue-col­lar jobs that are be­ing af­fected, ei­ther. A re­cent paper, Ox­ford Martin Pro­gramme on the Im­pacts of Fu­ture Tech­nol­ogy, claims that com­put­ers will be able to re­place hu­mans across an as­tound­ing 47 per cent of all cur­rent US jobs within the next 20 years.

As re­tail gi­ant Ama­zon waits pa­tiently for new reg­u­la­tion to come into ef­fect that will al­low it to send a primed global fleet of de­liv­ery drones into the skies – re­plac­ing the hu­man driv­ers that the com­pany cur­rently em­ploys – ro­bots are al­ready re­plac­ing surgeons and so­lic­i­tors the world over. The cost of ro­bot­ics has fallen around 10 per cent ev­ery year for the past few decades, mak­ing a new au­to­mated fu­ture in­creas­ingly af­ford­able. Could our en­tire species be made re­dun­dant in the next century?

Dr Michael A. Os­borne, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in ma­chine learn­ing at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford and co-au­thor of last year’s study, claims that “an enor­mous swathe of em­ploy­ment is at risk of com­put­er­i­za­tion dur­ing the next decade”. It’s due to what he de­scribes as “a for­tu­itous con­flu­ence of a range of dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies: mo­bile ro­bot­ics, the rise of big data, in­for­ma­tion, tech­nol­ogy and the cost of com­po­nents”.

While Os­borne is keen to make clear he’s not pre­dict­ing 47 per cent of the work­force will def­i­nitely lose their jobs – there’s a host of reg­u­la­tory and pub­lic con­cerns that will dic­tate whether those jobs can be re­placed or not – he is cer­tain that the nec­es­sary tech will ex­ist.

“There could well be wide­spread un­em­ploy­ment as a re­sult,” Os­borne warns.

The signs are clear. Apps such as Uber have al­ready au­to­mated the task of book­ing a ride home, an­ger­ing taxi driv­ers in all the world’s ma­jor cities and prompt­ing strikes in Lon­don, while Google, Audi and BMW are all primed to re­lease driver­less cars that, within the next two decades, could put driv­ers out of a job com­pletely. Ap­ple’s Siri and Google Now rely on nat­u­ral user in­ter­faces to recog­nise the spo­ken word, in­ter­pret its mean­ings and act on it ac­cord­ingly; it’s one very small leap to a fu­ture of call cen­tres run en­tirely by ro­botic Siri-alikes.

Even the more skilled of jobs aren’t safe from this new ro­botic work­force. On­col­o­gists at Me­mo­rial Sloan- Ket­ter­ing Cancer Cen­ter now use IBM’s su­per­com­puter Wat­son to pro­vide chronic care and cancer treat­ment di­ag­nos­tics. The soft­ware draws from 600,000 med­i­cal re­ports, 1.5 mil­lion pa­tient records and clin­i­cal tri­als, plus two mil­lion pages of med­i­cal jour­nals, to com­pare each pa­tient’s in­di­vid­ual symp­toms, ge­net­ics and his­tory, re­turn­ing a di­ag­no­sis and a per­son­alised treat­ment plan. Os­borne pre­dicts that it will soon be pos­si­ble to place in­ex­pen­sive sen­sors on street­lights to cap­ture sound and im­ages, re­duc­ing the num­ber of po­lice, too.

Ian Pear­son, a fu­tur­ist and au­thor of the book To­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity, agrees with Os­borne’s pre­dic­tions, but be­lieves that this kind of change, while ac­com­pa­nied by clear and dis­rup­tive loss, is not nec­es­sar­ily a neg­a­tive one. For Pear­son, au­to­ma­tion is sim­ply the next step in our nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of labour, a process set in mo­tion way back dur­ing the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion.

“Au­to­ma­tion is just more of the same,” he says. “The more ma­chines that can help out with hu­man labour, the greater the amount of wealth gen­er­ated, al­low­ing us to bet­ter look af­ter people and the planet. If we han­dle it well, au­to­ma­tion could make the world a far bet­ter place.”

How ex­actly could au­to­ma­tion make the world a bet­ter place if half of us are left job­less? For one thing, Pear­son be­lieves that the cost of liv­ing could be vastly re­duced, so there would be less need for us to work. He gives the

This au­to­mated shop in pro­vides all life’s es­sen­tials, ex­cept jobs

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.