|At the Techonomy 2012 conference, Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robotics, MIT’s Andrew McAfee, and John Markoff of The New York Times took a closer look at the present and future of robotics some very interesting ideas arose about technological unemployment and the future of employment.|
According to McAfee, co-author of the book, Race Against The Machine, as technology races ahead, it is leaving a lot of workers behind. That is a trend that he fully expects to see continue.
"We’re just on the other side of a tipping point where computers and robots and hardware and software are doing things that used to be, honestly, the domain of science fiction. That’s going to have a lot of wonderful consequences for a society in our economy. It’s going to have some very, very challenging consequences for the labor force, and particularly for the less-skilled, less-educated workers, of whom there are a lot in the States and all over the world." said McAfee.
Looking at the field of robotics McAfee sees that technology is encroaching into human skills and abilities that have never, ever been the case before. This, he states, will have profound economic, social and cultural implications.
One of McAfee and his co-author, Erik Brynjolfsson's key points of Race Against The Machine was is that traditional economists do not agree with their hypothesis that technological obsolescence is really taking hold now, despite it being talked about for many years. Federico Pisotono also covers technological employment in Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK.
McAfee says, "A couple more ticks of Moore’s law and you’ve got automation that works more cheaply than Chinese labor does. So I can’t see anything that would stop that trend."
"We’ve been talking about technology and encroachment for 200 years. We’ve had waves of incredibly powerful technology, so the argument from history is a calming argument. I just don’t take any confidence from it these days, because the recent economic trends are pointing in a pretty different direction. And when I look into the future, again, we ain’t seen nothing yet."
Brooks, discussing his new robot, Baxter tries to allay the fears of technological unemployment his robots stir, "I’ve been arguing that this is not meant to replace people. It’s meant to make them more productive. That was why I made it so that ordinary line workers could program it. Because it wasn’t this technology that’s coming down from above and they’re not allowed to be part of the equation."
In one exchange, Markoff asks Brooks what the labor cost of Baxter is. "We’re saying it’s under $4 an hour." replies Brooks.
Markoff replies, "But at the same time you argue that Baxter is not a job killer, there are tasks on the factory floor that are displaced. Where do the workers go?"
When asked about time lines in reference to Ray Kurzweil's predictions, Rodney Brooks look at us having many humanoid robots ten years from now. "There will be lots of humanoids around, because we are starting to manufacture them in vast quantities, compared to the humanoid robots that were around before. I suspect researchers will take them and use them in healthcare things... So I think within ten years, you’re going to start to see humanoid robots."
McAfee ends the session with a note on the Singularity too: "We should keep in mind too, if Kurzweil is right, there are no jobs in 2029. It’s straight mapping. I have my disagreements too with the singularity. But when we have the artificial mind, every rational employer would employ them."
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