Recently, I read an article online where it was said that one of the reasons for the future growth of unemployment will be that more and more jobs will be done by robots and other forms of automation.
Among the jobs that were listed as ones that could fall to automation were dental assistant, delivery driver, and restaurant wait staff.
Actually, this may turn out to be true, and I understand that there is a restaurant in France that does have automated wait staff. Driverless cars are being tested. And sure, we’ve all seen, or rather, heard automated answering systems (“…press one, for customer service, two, to leave a voice mail..”, etc.), and automated toll booths, among others. But a fully automated world where no human will hold a job?
Possibly, but only after a very long time, for several reasons I can think of.
First, and possibly the strongest reason is, though we are encountering more and more automated systems, we still tend not to like them. We still want to talk to a human being. And this is especially true in medical situations and those situations where things have gone wrong in general. I’m sure most people simply don’t feel comfortable with a robot diagnosing their symptoms and prescribing medicine just yet.
And then there’s the hassle factor, which I have dealt with. Some automated phone systems will simply not let you get to a human being, and their voice recognition systems will often misunderstand what you are saying. And, of course, they cannot think so when your situation falls through the cracks because it doesn’t neatly fall into one of the categories you’ve been presented with, so you get nowhere.
Second, is reliability issues, which is related to the first reason. Again, many voice recognition systems won’t understand what you are saying. A company may be reluctant to completely rely on a fully automated customer service system without some kind of human backup.
Third, which is, yes, related to the second reason. It’s a lack of an ability for self correction, or to think, period. That is, if a human employee makes a mistake and sends you a toaster instead of the blender you ordered, it may be caught by another employee before it even gets to you. If a human employee has to leave suddenly for the day, another will see it and offer to cover for the now absent employee. And if the employee is a mistake prone jerk, the boss can let the employee know that his or her job is at stake unless they shape up.
But with robots, at least for now, if one makes a mistake, you’re getting that toaster and you’ll have a real hassle trying to straiten out the mess through the company phone system. If one machine breaks down, it stays broken and the other machines don’t know it. The pumping machine may just keep filling that tank until it explodes. The other machines cannot make a call for repairs. Production and other functions stop until a human notices, by which time much more damage may have been done. And if a machine or robot just will not work, no amount of threats will make it start working.
Lastly, we’re not quite there yet. That is, while certainly, we have been able to successfully bring automation to areas such as the factory floor, and yes, the example of the exploding tank above has been solved by adding sensors and systems that will shut down the pumping machine, the technology for having robots completely replace humans in many areas is a long way from reality, even now. And while many businesses are looking to use more and more automation, it is still very expensive to start, and somewhat risky, so many businesses, especially small ones, are not yet on that bandwagon and won’t be for a good while.
We don’t have a robot that can go door to door delivering mail, or selling items and services, and people are not ready to deal with a robot salesperson or clerk unless there’s another human from the company there who understands what you’re saying and who can correct any problems on the spot. And no one’s yet ready to trust a robot surgeon acting alone in the OR just yet.
So, not to worry yet, humans will still be needed for jobs, including those that robotics and growing automation will generate, for a long, long time to come.
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