YouTube user CGPGreymakes interesting minidocumentaries, and the latest one addresses a topic we’ve touched on a number of times: How will human labour and employment be affected as robotic technologies ramp up to become more and more useful?
Working off the analogy of horses finding less and less “employment” as humans developed machines to take their place for a variety of applications, CGPGrey lays out the case that we’re not only heading towards a future where machines replace people in their jobs (and that includes professions like doctors and lawyers), but we’re already right in the middle of it.
Humans have made use of tools for thousands of years. In a sense, tools are our 'mechanical muscles.'
Tools have freed us up to take on other pursuits. In the agriculture industry, for example, we've gone from almost everyone needing to produce food to almost no one needing to produce food.
Automated systems don't get enough credit for their capabilities. This is the common image that comes to mind when one thinks about automation -- mindless, non-learning robots that do the same things day in and day out.
But consider a vision-equipped robot called Baxter, which can learn to do a variety of tasks simply by watching you do them.
Consider horses, which served a variety of purposes in the past -- military, transportation, farming. As new technologies developed, horses increasingly found themselves out of a 'job.'
This is something that we'll very realistically begin to see happening to people as 'mechanical minds' become increasingly refined.
Just consider how expensive it is to keep humans employed. They represent one-third of a business' costs. They get tired, they take vacations, they make mistakes. You can see how a business owner might find automatons more appealing.
And even the 'higher order' jobs won't be safe, like lawyers and doctors. The legal industry doesn't have as much to do with a courtroom as you might think. It largely consists of sorting through stacks of documents to find patterns and useful information. This is a process that can already be hastened with intelligent software.
Doctors can't possibly stay up to date on all the latest medical research. But a smart piece of software, such as IBM's Watson, would have no problem retaining all the latest medical knowledge and recalling it perfectly. In fact, this is exactly what it is designed to do -- the famous Jeopardy win was something more closely approaching a side project.
At the height of the Great Depression, 25% of the US population was out of work. As machines step in to automate various jobs today (and more as they improve in the future), they are expected to obsolesce some 45% of workers.
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