Will Robots Take Over My Job?

The rise of Artificial Intelligence in the past several years is quite amazing. A.I has been researched for decades, but the regular person has mostly seen it in movies and comic books and it wasn’t even real.

Today, we have digital assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Now, Amazon Echo), driver assisted systems (Adapted Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitors), search engines (Google, Bing), video game opponents, among others.

There are even less noticeable uses of machine learning that people benefit from everyday. When you shop online at big retailers such as Amazon and Wal-Mart, they have recommendations of products for you to buy. This is done through machine learning.

Spam filters in your email inbox are driven by machine learning. In the early days of email, it was much easier to tell spam and phishing emails, but as spam filters progressed, so did the sophistication of malicious emails, and the volume sent. Automation was the only practical way to handle the problem. Now, top free email providers like Google and Microsoft are trying to improve the email experience by determining which email is important to you and filing away the “noise” in another folder.

How Are People’s Jobs Affected?

I’ve shown a steady progress of Machine Learning and A.I over time. In the present (2016), we’ve reached a point where A.I can start taking over some of the more menial or repetitive tasks in people’s jobs. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Legal Research – Lawyers often need to do research on the law to help them with their work, such as finding a legal precedent that can be used in trial. To a computer, the law is just words and combined with A.I, it can be interpreted for meaning and comparison. IBM’s Watson, just this year, offered legal research as a service.
  • Taxi Driver / Chauffeur – The biggest news in A.I in the last couple years is self-driving cars. Google made headlines with it’s self-driving cars and now many other companies are joining the race to commercialize it. There are self-driving cars on the road right now, but they still have operators behind the wheel just in case.
  • Secretaries / Personal Assistants – The Digital Personal Assistants are the first step in automated the tasks that personal assistants do.
  • Factory Workers – This has been happening for decades now. If you look back at the factories for the first cars, 100’s people were standing shoulder to shoulder, each person handling one small, specific task. Over time, robots have replaced them with people overseeing the process. There are still many tasks that don’t have a robotic solution to them, yet, so people are still needed, but it’s only a matter of time until a robot is made.

Companion V.S. Replacement

In the short term, we’re going to see a continuation of specialized A.I systems making their way into the workplace in the form of specialized software run on computer, like what we see today. Think of doctors consulting their computers to get a 2nd opinion on a diagnosis for one of their patients with it’s own reasoning. The doctor could compare the intelligent system’s diagnosis with his or her own before giving a final report to the patient.

A good reason for why A.I. will still remain as a companion instead of replacing the person is because of hardware. You can’t ask the computer to walk down the hallway, and grab a cup of coffee for you. Only recently have we seen robotic servers in select restaurants in Asia, and they are basically line following robots with a camera and microphone. We are a long ways from likes of Data from Star Trek : TNG.

Still, some jobs can be replaced in the short term, such as taxi drivers, because the physical challenge is not a fundamental leap: we already have cars, we just need to retrofit them with more advanced sensors and computers with smart A.I. We don’t need a robot to sit in the driver seat.

If your job does not require being a people person or building anything in the physical realm (e.g. construction worker), that is also a prime target for replacement as the other major hurdle for A.I is social interaction. Yes, there are chat bots today, but I’m talking about face-to-face contact, such as what therapist and doctors give. This is not easily replaceable and even if the technology existed to have a fully human-like robot, if the patient knew, they might still feel uncomfortable trusting them. There is something to be said about the human touch.

Eventually, in the distant future, we will have very human like machines (think AMC’s Humans, as opposed to the Terminator), and the ramifications of a generally intelligent machine will be a fundamental change in our culture and economy. Would you trust a machine to be your police or politician even if they could it and do it without bias or error?

How would people make money to live if all jobs could be done by a machine? This is worthy of another post but the concept of universal basic income would have be part of the solution.