Humans Need Not Apply
By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting
I combined the subjects of many of the articles in the latest Economist Technology Quarterly with some of RetailWire’s recent discussions on “entry level employment” to reach a disturbing conclusion…Read on.
Many of the Economist articles describe advances in the fields of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and voice recognition.
- The Humanoids on the March article describes the advances that are being made in the creation of robots, which are able walk upright and grasp things in their “hands” much the same as humans.
- In AI and the Law, the author describes how tests of artificial intelligence to provide legal advice and render decisions has led to more appropriate and consistent results than what often comes from attorneys and judges.
- Finally, The Talking Cure describes the effort to create dedicated “voice recognition chips” as has been done with video chips that offload the voice processing so the PC can remain focused on problem solving. These voice recognition chips would allow the computer to accept commands verbally without slowing down the current processing.
One of the big pushes for NASA over the next 10 years is to be the increased use of robotics for space travel. The agency will continue to develop more sophisticated units that can be used in place of human explorers. Many of these devices will require the capability to exercise “free will” as they operate in remote areas where real time command from earth is impossible. They will have to be able to recognize and respond to the environment they encounter.
Automation and robotics have already proliferated across the consumer spectrum and in business. ATM’s, automated checkouts, and self-serve gas stations have all had an impact on the “entry level” job market.
More sophisticated uses for robotics have had an impact on higher paying manufacturing and service jobs, as well. Robotic dispensing systems are said to fill prescriptions at rates multiple times faster than human pharmacists and do it without making mistakes.
From a business standpoint, there is a lot to commend in the potential use of robotics. Robots don’t organize (at least not yet), they don’t require a salary or health benefits. It is no wonder that businesses wanting to reduce costs have turned to automation.
But robots don’t pay taxes, coach little league teams or participate in community volunteerism, such as the fire company or auxiliary police and, oh yes, they don’t shop in stores.
Moderator’s Comment: Is there a point in the development of technology where society’s need to “encourage full employment” must override the economics
of automation? Is it a proper role for government to encourage the use of people in place of automation?
Thinking about this whole subject makes my head hurt. I am generally not for government intervention and would prefer that the “free hand of the market
place” dictate how business is conducted. But in this case, I really feel there is a role for government. It seems a simple approach would be some kind of tax on robots. If they
are going to be generating revenue, shouldn’t they also be contributing to society? By putting a tax on automation, we raise its cost to the business (all businesses) which may
shift the economics back to human workers. The only robots exempt from this tax would be the ones replacing attorneys (just kidding). –
Bill Bittner – Moderator