Artificial Intelligence Revolution: You will lose your jobs to ‘robots’?

The insecurity of employment is much higher these days because of a high level of competition. To add insult to injury, now robots have joined the race to take our jobs away, writes Sounak Mukhopadhyay

Things have changed. Outsourcing is not restricted to humans anymore. Instead of worrying about other people stealing your job, you may now be anxious that you might lose it to automation. In simpler words, you should be worried that robots may take away your job.

Now, robots not only mean machines that look like humans (the ones we typically see in movies). Pre-Programmed Robots are used for building cars. Those are also used in the medical industry. Autonomous Robots are mostly used as labor-saving devices, such as automated vacuum cleaners. Tele-operated Robots are controlled by humans. Doctors can operate you from a remote location using Tele-Operated Robots. Augmenting Robots are attached to human bodies. If some loses an arm, Augmenting Robots can be attached to their body as a robotic prosthetic arm.

To begin with, this seems like a legitimate concern. There are reasons why some people have been highly skeptic about the use of robots in the employment sector. More precisely, they suspect humanoid robots may replace human beings soon in major areas of operation.

SoftBank opened a mobile phone store in Tokyo last year. The Japanese company employed robots instead of humans to do the job. The humanoids, called Pepper, can recognise emotions by looking at human faces. They can identify if the customer is in a bad mood or a good mood and act accordingly. In 2013, a group of researchers at the Oxford University claimed that almost half of all the jobs in the United States could be automated in the next two decades.

So, there is no denying the fact that a significant percentage of all jobs is going to be automated in near future. Sooner or later, you are going to be attended by a robot at a store near your home. The humanoid robots may fill the gas, serve you pizza and even receive you at hotels.

The humanoid, called Pepper, can recognise emotions by looking at human faces

Productivity is a myth

On paper, using automated technology should dramatically increase the productivity of a company. Automation does help companies produce more with fewer employees. The past decade has seen much more use of automation than any other decades in the past. Strangely enough, the growth rate of productivity is quite low compared to the past decade.

In the US, labour productivity grew 3 percent on an annual average between 1947 and 1973. In the last couple of years, the growth rate of productivity is just 0.6 percent. The growth rate has hit the lowest point since 2007, with 1.2 percent. This is the slowest growth rate of productivity since WWII. Despite the brouhaha about technological growth in the last 20 years, this remains a matter of concern for tech experts. At the same time, the information comforts those who were earlier concerned about their job.

IIM Ahmedabad alumnus Dr Dheeraj Kumar Pandey believes automation is the future in India. More companies are using automation in their products and services because it immensely enhances the productivity. “Also, the margin of error is almost zero,” he adds.

Demand Vs Supply

When it comes to human labour, the demand is much more than the supply. Employers are complaining all the time that they are facing a shortage of labourers. They never complain about labour surpluses. Yes, there was a time when a huge number of people lost their jobs. But, that was due to the Great Recession, not because of automation. The job market is growing more than ever and shows no sign of slowing down.

The Automated Teller Machine, more popularly known as ATM, was introduced in the US in September 1969. If we believe in the power of automation, we should also believe that those machines must have reduced the number human tellers. The number of bank tellers in the US, on the contrary, has doubled in the last 48 years.

In India, the ATM was first introduced by HSBC in 1987, when the number of bank employees in India was around 7.5 million. By October 2017, the number of ATMs in India is almost 3 million, according to RBI statistics. In July 2013, the number of bank employees in India was reduced to just over a million.

Physicist Dr Govind Pandey, however, doubts if robots can replace humans to the extent of snatching jobs away from us. “The idea is to improve on accuracy and reliability, and not to take jobs away,” the researcher at CERN, Switzerland, who also teaches at UWC Changshu in China, says.

“After all, we will need manpower to design, research and troubleshoot robots.”

The Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, or BEAR may soon have the ability to rescue wounded soldiers under fire without risking additional lives

Human labour against machines

If you think of the core purpose of technology, you’ll realise that it has always meant to reduce human labour. All the inventions in the world are supposed to produce more with less human labour. When computers were introduced, people were concerned that it will leave people unemployed. When one machine can do what 10 people are capable of, it’s obvious to believe that the machine would steal jobs from ten people.

Mumbai-based neurosurgery trainee Subhasish Dey won’t be surprised if robots replace regular surgeons in near future. “Robot-assisted surgery is already a reality,” he points out.

On the other hand, pastry chef Vinisha Francis believes her job is safe. The cake-making basics can be efficiently done by a robot. However, the art-work involved in it cannot be done via automation. “Can a robot paint a picture on its own?” Vinisha wonders. “Every cake I make has a unique design. And, no robot can do that.”



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