The Ro­bots Are Com­ing For Your Job

MidWeek (Hawaii) - - Front Page - THE LOW­DOWN Jim Hightower

In­dus­trial au­toma­tons have been on the march for years, de­vour­ing the mid­dle-class job op­por­tu­ni­ties of fac­tory work­ers. But this time is dif­fer­ent.

If you think your fam­ily’s fu­ture is safe be­cause you don’t rely on fac­tory work, think again. Rapid ad­vances in AI have al­ready turned yes­ter­day’s science fic­tion into to­day’s brave new “cre­ative de­struc­tion” — the con­stant churn of eco­nomic and cul­tural in­no­va­tions that de­stroy ex­ist­ing ways of do­ing things. A net­work of in­ven­tors and in­vestors, hun­dreds of univer­sity en­gi­neer­ing and math de­part­ments, thou­sands of gov­ern­ment-funded re­search projects, count­less free­lance in­no­va­tors and the en­tire cor­po­rate es­tab­lish­ment are “re-in­vent­ing” prac­ti­cally ev­ery work­place by dis­plac­ing AI ro­bots.

This mass-scale de­ploy­ment of ro­bots has al­ready ush­ered i n a whole new world of work. It’s a CEO’s cap­i­tal­ist par­adise, where the work­force doesn’t call in sick or take va­ca­tions, can’t unions — and is cheap.

As a re­sult, ro­bots are rapidly climb­ing the pay lad­der into white-col­lar and pro­fes­sional po­si­tions that mil­lions of col­lege-ed­u­cated, mid­dle-class em­ploy­ees have wrongly con­sid­ered safe, in­clud­ing:

• Doc­tor­ing. Ro­bots have long served as sur­gi­cal as­sis­tants, but to­day’s ro­botic saw­bones can be the pri­mary slicer-dicers, op­er­at­ing with more pre­ci­sion than hu­mans. Ro­bots are now per­form­ing mil­lions of surg­eries ev­ery year. More­over, ad­vanced doc-bots in­creas­ingly di­ag­nose and choose treat­ments based on their abil­ity to di­gest thou­sands of sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles, med­i­cal re­ports, pa­tient records, etc. In 2012, Vinod Khosla, bil­lion­aire co-founder of Sun Mi­crosys­tems, noted: “Much of what physi­cians do ... can be done bet­ter by sen­sors, pas­sive and ac­tive data col­lec­tions, and an­a­lyt­ics.” His stun­ning con­clu­sion was that com­put­ers will even­tu­ally re­place 80 per­cent of what doc­tors now do.

• De­liv­er­ing the goods. While on­line re­tail giants have al­ready elim­i­nated hun­dreds of thou­sands of sales clerks by rad­i­cally re­struc­tur­ing how con­sumers make pur­chases, AI sys­tems are poised to gob­ble up the jobs trans­port­ing those prod Amer­ica’s t ruck­ers, who num­ber 1.8 mil­lion and have some of the few re­main­ing, de­cent-pay­ing jobs not re­quir­ing col­lege de­grees. En­gi­neers at Google, Uber, et al. are rolling out pro­to­types for driver-less trucks that can criss­cross the coun­try with­out rest breaks, sleep, or days off.

be­he­moth’s fo­cus on work the poster-child job dis­rupter in the re­tail econ­omy, maxi many hu­mans as pos­si­ble, as soon as pos­si­ble. Their mas­sive ware­houses are al pluck­ing mil­lions of prod- ucts from miles of shelves to fill on­line or­ders. More staged a PR show in Au­gust around its na­tion­wide “Job Day” event to hire 50,000 hu­man work­ers, it has been ex­pand­ing its cur­rent swarm of full-time ro­bots. In 2012, - gence de­vel­oper, now named its own line of androids, and by Au­gust had added an­other 55,000 of these crea­tures to its 100,000-strong ware­house also push­ing reg­u­la­tors to let it re­place de­liv­ery work­ers with drones and is test­ing a - ve­nience stores “staffed” al­most en­tirely by AI sys­tems. And it just swal­lowed Whole Foods gro­cery chain, loudly promis­ing lower prices but whispering the method: re-

A child reaches out to a ro­botic dog dis­played at the World Robot Conference in Bei­jing on Oct. 21. The au­thor be­lieves ro­bots will soon dom­i­nate our lives — to ill ef­fect.

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