Posting in Food
The rise of robots may come sooner than we think. It's important to start thinking about laws and consequences.
We may be poised for the rise of robots after all. Popular sci-fi culture in the 1970s loved tales of robot overlords promising to overtake humans. And we waited for them to come true. Nothing happened. But now, we might just be on the edge of robot revolution.
Smart Planet recently reported on the dropping cost of an open-source robotic platform, meant to greatly increase the amount of robotic research around the world. And many claim the robot revolution will cause just as much upheaval in our lives as did the Internet and the PC over the last three decades. Better technology, falling prices and a new-found surge in open source operating systems set the stage for significant growth within the next decade.
In two years there will be 1.2 million robots working on Earth, that is one robot per 5,000 humans. As of 2010, there are 34 robots working per 1,000 people in Japan (see info graphic below from Focus and the World Robotics report.) It is estimated that by 2025 robots will have taken over a whopping half of all jobs in the U.S. The hardest hit industries are predicted to be: manufacturing, automotive and food services.
Already robots can climb walls, scramble up cliffs, drive cars, and plug themselves in to wall sockets. If you bought something on Zappos.com recently, chances are that item was retrieved by a robot.
Apparently that doesn't mean Americans will become obsolete, rather the hope is that robots will make Americans more productive, especially in the automotive industries. This is according to Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at the Stanford Center for Internet & Society, who was recently interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Calo claims we are closer to the age of robots because of more powerful technology and slashed prices (reminiscent of Moore's Law?) He points to Microsoft's Kinect which sells for mere hundreds of dollars but would have cost thousands just three years back.
At the heart of innovation is the push for open source programming. Right now a companies like the Silicon Valley-based Willow Garage provide open-source operating systems that any academic can program for any purpose. It's this ability to experiment quickly (they don't need to re-build hardware every time they want a new type of robot) that will support a significant increase in robotic capability.
It reminds us of third party development for platforms like the iPhone and Android that then led to the proliferation of apps and other new uses for phones. Calo notes that this sort of openness within robotics comes with trepidation. He imagines the consequences if some bored hack decides to program his Roomba to play Frogger on a real highway.
Companies do not want to be held responsible for the craziness of humans. Calo believes that we need to start thinking about such situations and provide the same protections that were in place during the early days of the Internet. A small part of the Communications Decency Act of the 1990s that emerged intact from Supreme Court hearings, may be the savior of innovation. Section 230 states that the platform will not be liable as the publisher of what users publish. Imagine, Calo asks, if Facebook or Craigslist, or any news commenting system, would exist at all if such legality did not exist? This immunity helped pave the way to innovation in the Web. We need the same sort of immunity for manufactures of open robotics, says Calo. We cannot keep manufacturers liable for what the users might choose to program into their robots. If we do then companies like Willow Garage and others will simply not take the risk, and so academics are not able to quickly and voraciously experiment.
Calo points to what happened with Sony's AIBO robot dog. Basically the software allows the user to raise it from puppy to dog, along with giving the dog a bunch of voice commands. Users wanted to expand so the enterprising ones wrote their own programs and applications and it turned into a "vibrant library that everyone was excited about." But Sony intervened, sued over copyright issues, and the backlash caused Sony to close the entire line of AIBO. Later Sony rethought their decision and allowed the dog to ship with a software development kit included.
One of the more immediate examples of robots hanging out alongside us is the implementation of self-driving cars. This has already brought fear. The other week one of Google's self-driving Prius' slammed into another Prius. Google reported it had nothing to do with the software and the blame was on human error. Still, it makes us think of the possibilities. Calo commented:
…whether or not a crash involving an autonomous vehicle causes a backlash will depend on the circumstances.
If an autonomous car is programmed to avoid strollers and shopping carts, but is confronted by both at once and swerves into stroller, then yes, robot driving is over in the United States. There's a lot of fear of robots, so maybe not matter what, as soon as a robot car fatality happens, that's it.
But my hope is that it won't. Hopefully, you'll have thousands and thousands of hours of uneventful driving and you can point to the statistics that show we have enormously reduced fatalities.
Unfortunately statistics never provides comfort to Americans, or any human for that matter. Next time you are taking off from JFK try telling your phobic neighbor that they have a greater chance of drowning in a bathtub than dying in a plane crash. You'll see first hand just how successful stats are.
[via the San Francisco Chronicle]
Aug 24, 2011
If the robots are sold to Mexico, some'thing'! will be there to do our manufacturing... as people continue to move across the border to pick our fruit?
I'm really pleased that the discussion here focuses on the very real problem of job loss or and dislocation (aka, "creative destruction," great if you're not the one destroyed). But Christie's figure for jobs for robots by 2025 in the US is 50%. That's just 13 years! Right now unemployment is at 9.1% and that's stuck. Everyone out there is screaming "jobs, jobs, jobs!" but there is stagnation and ideological gridlock on what to do even with that. Technological change is moving much, much faster than during the Luddite era in the early industrial revolution. If anything the rate of change is accelerating. But I don't see any form of support structure to help new careerists -- much less old careerists -- identify possibilities and get the resources to keep themselves marketable for literally decades. Nobody has even mentioned the cognitive side of work where developments like IBM's Watson suggest rapid development and displacement of jobs too. IBM wants to sell Watson to big law firms and health provider services to do large volumes of information searching and aggregation -- things currently being done by people with jobs. There's nearly 7 billion people on the planet. We've already automated or outsourced to cheap hands a lot of work that used to make a living for people in this country. I can hardly imagine what's it's going to be like when the world has 9 billion folks who need employment to be part of respectable humanity and we have machines that can do everything they're capable of doing that don't draw any wages at all.
Some great comments on here, but as John McGrew implied, millennia of labour-saving devices have only led to almost-flat unemployment percentages. Maybe not everybody can move into the boardroom, but rather than thinking of more "intelligent" jobs, think of more "human" ones. The world will still need doctors, nurses, teachers, store clerks, customer services. But, as well as the designers, engineers, managers for a new generation of tech, a huge number of artists, testers, user-interface focus groups will be needed to hone the end products. And... well... I don't know! Entrepreneurs? Childcare? Dog walkers?! The Luddites who smashed their machines couldn't guess what the people of 2011 would be doing when they realised we wouldn't be manually operating our looms, but we thought of stuff. And all of the "free" robot labour will drive down costs, so each of us will (on average) become better-off relative to our productivity. The "robot overlord" hype couldn't be more wrong; the robots will be working FOR US!
With all that time on your hands, robots could build us robots to assist in all kinds of services. They're even experimenting with human looking robots. Imagine the world's oldest profession being staffed with robots. I wonder if the person running it would be considered a criminal? hmmmm.....
I hope this means that I will one day achieve my lifelong dream of becoming a school bus driver. -Awesome-0
The infographic mentions robots in the food service industry (burger-flipper bot?), but I'm curious about the impact of increasingly intelligent and capable robots in the agriculture industry. Agriculture has become increasingly automated but still relies on a large, low-skilled labor force. While the "skill" level is low and requires little education for a human, the tasks involved (determination of ripeness, harvesting without damage, etc.) have, as yet, remained economically unfeasible to automate. That may not hold true for much longer. Major cultural and socio-economic shifts have occurred throughout history due to subtle shifts in economic viability. While ethics played a primary role in the abolition of slavery, the fact that share-croppers and paid farmhands cost the plantation owners less for the same amount of production helped hasten slavery's end throughout much of the world. Inventions, such as the cotton gin, also greatly shrunk the need for manual labor. What used to occupy the majority of the population now only occupies 1.6% of the U.S. labor force while America remains a major food exporter. In American agriculture, specifically, large domestic labor forces have been replaced by migrant workers. To narrow the focus further, and bring us back to the topic at hand, when I was a kid, there was a large migrant worker population working in the nut-tree groves of Northern California, but with the invention of nut-harvesters--invention spurred on by political events and the rising cost of labor--most of their jobs were automated out of existence. Agriculture remains an occupation characterized by the "three D's" (dull, dirty, and dangerous) where robots are increasingly being employed. We can be concerned about skilled and educated workers being displaced by robotics, but as a number of people have already commented, skilled and educated people will likely find another way to make a living. What happens to the people without skills or education? I wish I could say I have good answers. It is awfully patronizing to reject technology in favor of employing people in low-skill occupations, just to give them something to do. As others have discussed, displacing large numbers of workers will likely be destabilizing, but once the tipping point is reached where automated labor is cheaper than human labor, the work is going to shift to the robots. If you try to stop that shift, you are forcing people to pay more for goods than they would otherwise. You can try to convince the consumer that they are getting better quality (in other words, they are still getting better value). The argument is little different than the more common discussion of "outsourcing" work to regions where labor is less expensive. In the long view, humans have always sought to make work easier through the use of machines. Lifting has evolved from using your hands, to a lever, to block and tackle, to a hydraulic jack, to a forklift. What's next, C-3PO's friend, the "Binary Load Lifter"? If a machine can do it faster / better / cheaper (and sometimes all three), why should you? I would be less concerned about thinking machines taking over skilled labor and more so about the impact to society when robots make the significant, unskilled portion of the planet's population obsolete.
oh, robots can be wonderful, save corporations tons of money in labour expenses and benefits, maybe even to precision-type jobs better. and they certainly dont ask for sick days, vacations, parental leave, health insurance, or pay raises. but what do people then do to make a living, or to simply "have something to do" with their life? a phrase from a book (sorry, dont remember which) sums up life excellently for how to be optimistic, to be mentally healthier, to avoid depression or malaise, and even crime. every person needs only 3 basic things in life: "something to do", "someone to love", and "something to look forward to". when i was unemployed after a sudden layoff, the "something to do" disappeared from my life - oh for a month or 2 it was wonderful, i got caught up on things around the house. but then what? after a year of being unable to find new job, i returned back to grad school - hence giving me "the something to do". but i had to do it on student loans, and totally wrecked my finances by having to live off my 401k during the year of unemployment after unemployment payments ran out. i also did some volunteering for a couple of social groups. very gratifying, another "something to do", and a reminder that no matter how bad i felt about my circomstance, that others were worse off than me. but volunteering doesnt pay the bills. if robots continue to displace people, then what kind of work are people going to get? how will they pay their bills? how will they be occupied with "something to do" so that they dont get depressed, or turn to criminal acts or drugs?
It is true that not everyone can do more advanced jobs - maybe 10 - 20% of the population can, so what do you do with the remaining 80% - leave them unemployed? That will destabilize society. Perhaps the rush to robotic labor should be re-thought in the best interests of human society.
There's always an assumption in automation... That the workers displaced can be moved "up" to "more skilled" jobs. Certainly many can be. However, there are those that can't be, as well as those that don't want to be. Not everyone wants to be a CEO. Some people really do fit on the assembly line. They may not love (or even like) the job, but they may be even more unhappy being trained and moving to higher responsibility/higher stress jobs.
doesn't include those who have fallen off the unemployment rosters, without obtaining work.... the actual unemployment numbers could be staggeringly (maybe) higher. It's been a LONG time since unemployment figures counted everyone without a job. Unemployment figures are based ONLY on the amount of people getting unemployment benefits. When those run out, job or no job, you're no longer counted in that unemployment figure.
As long as the corporation feels we will pay whatever they ask.... they'll keep their huge bonuses, and we'll have less to spend... until nobody can afford anything.
With all of us baby boomers heading into old age there is one field that has a bright future: taking care of old bodies. This article (http://bit.ly/qCPLF7) outlines the need for home health aides and nursing home aides. Lots of old people for the next 30 or 40 years will need to be spoon-fed, have their diapers changed (toileting), be bathed, and lifted in and out of wheelchairs -- all without going nuts. Having a dad with Alzheimer's and a mother and mother-in-law with deep dementia, I've been exposed to a lot of this. All I can say is when I need it I want Filipinos. They're gentle and patient. Most people who do this for long burn out or become really indifferent. In Japan they're trying to do this sort of work with robots. I read awhile ago that so far it's not going well. The old folks don't like robots no matter how well they simulate a smile. "Get your claws off me, you damn dirty robot!"
As Steve Jones UK (below) says we need to think of "human" jobs, and I can't think of one more human with absolutely reliable demand than sex services. But we've criminalized that for so long it's full of thugs, extortionists, and druggies. It's a crime so criminals run it. No police or public health safeguards. But, serioulsy, why continue to take away a huge revenue producer if "human" services is mostly what we'll have to turn to?
1 aspect of the impact of the lack of work for a large fraction of a population is that democracy won't work. Here in the USA, 1/4 of the people own 87% of the wealth (per the Fed, per Wiki). If income gets as distorted as that...
Bring it up to a grand, and you can buy a desktop computer that would crush Deep Blue, running in the background, while your are reading and posting on ZDNet. Skilled workers are becoming obsolete. Know any draftsmen? There were floors of them on my job 20 years ago. None now. Don't study tax preparation as a career. Accountants? One person outworks a dozen of them just 20 years back too. Give that a while and we'll see it get even more severe. The building trades still have to be done. But, if you've watched "This Old House", however, you know how machines and equipment have cut labor a lot. We have an economy based upon a way of life that is ending fast for most people.
Now is the time we as people must look ahead. Either see what jobs won't be taken over by robots OR see what jobs will be available for working with or alongside robots. Computer programming-software. Electronics repair. Biomedical, Farming, Nutrition Religious studies, Economics etc. The area of education in the way or adults - children - pets- even service dogs and police/army animals will always have need for humans. We can see whats coming. We must look outside our own box of fears and look for what needs will need to be met when "what's coming" gets here. BTW I was unemployeed also after an unexpected lay off. Went to work one day and was told I was being let go - no warning whatsoever. Had just bought a house with the $$ I was living on 2 months earlier so I know something about the stress of being unemployed (although everyone's situation is somewhat different). Was unemployed 10 months. Finally took an entry level job at a company renting/selling Audio Visual equipment. I was paired with one other person to deliver equipment to various venues. I learned about all the equipment - read manuals, asked question, moved up to set up and tear down of events. learned more. Moved up to operating equipment. and so on. Now I have left that company and work for a church with over 4000 members and 14 ministers as their sole AV technician. I do everything from Sunday services to -- yesterday there was an outside group who's main speaker was Nicole C. Mullen. I have met and worked with many people from Tony Dungy to Walter Bruggeman to Carrie Newcomer to....... All who have come to and thru this church for one reason or another. NO I am NOT the best at what I do, but I CAN do it. I put myself in a position to learn a new trade when I couldn't get a job in my old one. Looking outside the box of my fears I was able to find a new carreer. Now I am successful enough to make a living at a job that I actually enjoy. Yea - I may have to sit thru 5 church services every sunday - but its a good living.
There will need to be new assembly lines and manufacturing workers to create the robots. Arms and circuit boards and other such parts. Eventually we can build the robots that will work those assembly lines -- but somewhere the first line of robots must be built and repaired. There will always be some assembly jobs and manufacturing jobs available.
How many farmers are there now? not many compared to just say 40 years ago (not long). This is the same way and the world has done this for a long time. Learn, grow adapt or die. Not fun, and I"m in IT...but I have adapted and do more design than actual coding. Coding was fun, but is a "commodity" now, though what you get on the "cheap" is usually what you pay for.
Your main point is valid. House construction jobs exist, to a large degree, because so much is done on site rather than at factories. The reason so much work is on site is that local building ordinances require it. So many construction jobs would disappear if there were national or even, in some cases, statewide standards for factory built modules. The factories would themselves be highly automated.
10 robots replacing 10 humans on an assembly line may take jobs away, but it also keeps people off the SSDI roles. Those robots are doing repetitive motion jobs that are proven to disable hundreds of thousands every year. Over 100,000 people will be diagnosed with just carpel tunnel syndrome in 2011. Right or wrong, about 10% of them will end up being declared permanently disabled. Most of the rest will miss months of work to recovery from surgery and suffer with the loss of motor skills to some degree for the rest of their life. Becoming a burden on our health care and unemployement systems.