The perfect employee?
They are precise, efficient, and obedient, and they don’t get tired, emotional or ill. It’s really no wonder that so many our jobs can be done by automation. Some of the statistics surrounding automation are frightening, whereas others seem less dramatic. A recent Forrester report, for example, suggested that 6% of US jobs would be automated by 2021. This is certainly significant, but it’s a reminder that robots aren’t ready to put everybody out of a job yet. In many cases, robots will serve as ‘cobots’, collaborating with human employees. The gradual assimilation of robots as part into the global workforce seems an inevitable reality, and so might be the unemployment of a considerable number of human workers.
However, let’s look at what’s happening today – Here are 10 important jobs are already becoming automated. . .
1. Call centre operative
Picking up the phone and listening to an automated voice is something we’re all familiar with by now. Via natural language processing and machine learning, conversational computers can connect with customers on a personal level. Financial company Swedbank uses an AI powered personal assistant called Nuance Nina for customer queries, and in 78 per cent of cases the issue is resolved immediately. Company research found that the majority of customers preferred interacting with a virtual assistant to trawling through FAQs. As the capabilities of AI and natural language processing improve, robots may edge out humans by understanding different languages.
Amazon’s delivery drones are definitely cool, but there’s a big question mark over their functionality. Due to their small size and lightweight material, the drones can only carry small packages and aren’t exactly robust. Founded in 2014, Starship Technologies has worked to answer these questions by developing courier bots that can carry 10kg and are relatively cheap to build and repair. The bot’s first customer was presented with their Turkish takeaway in November 2016 via Just Eat. In future, Starship plans to deploy hundreds of courier bots. This will disrupt the numerous gig economy couriers now working for companies like Uber and Deliveroo.
Healthcare has benefitted hugely from robotics, from medicine dispensers to disease diagnosis. However, advanced robots now match and even outperform surgeons. In a 2016 study published in Science Translational Medicine, a Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) stitched up a pig’s small intestines more successfully than its human equivalent. Robot surgeons and doctors aren’t affected by external influences like stress or tiredness and so make fewer mistakes. Having an operation under a robot surgeon may even make patients feel more comfortable, which is fantastic for healthcare but not perhaps for medical professionals.
Agriculture lies at the heart of modern technological development, but the industry has come a long way since the first farming machines began to reduce labour. Farming has long adopted IoT enhanced robotics as a production aid, but now there are bots which can grow crops from scratch without human influence. FarmBot is the next step in precision farming and runs on open source software. The robot sows and feeds the crop, as well as controlling weeds. It can also be manually controlled via an app. FarmBot isn’t strictly replacing farmers, but it’s making their physical presence far less necessary (at least when it comes to crops).
5. Security guard
Palo Alto based robotics company Cobalt has revealed a mobile, robotic security guard equipped with 360 degree cameras, thermal cameras, laser scanners, a microphone and long range RFID. Unlike human security workers, the bot can stand on guard constantly without needing to take breaks, and has a complete 360 view of its surroundings. Unfortunately, security bots received some bad press after a toddler was knocked over in a California shopping centre. However, these accidents will become less common as sensors and cameras improve.
6. Retail assistant
Conversational interfaces are already an established part of online retail, but robots are cropping up in physical shops as well. Retail company Lowe’s is introducing a fleet of robot shop assistants called OSHbots in a California hardware store. The bilingual bots will deal directly with customers as they walk through the door, finding and locating desired items. They can work out if an item is in stock via a complete knowledge of the store’s inventory, which is basically impossible for a human employee. In future, quirky social robots could help shoppers to choose products as well as locating them.
7. Fast food worker
In a fast food burger restaurant in Pasadena, you can find Flippy the robot. Flippy is essentially a small cart with a 6 axis arm and sensor bar, and it does exactly what you might expect. Although Flippy doesn’t dress burgers, it prepares them from scratch. The bot was created by Miso Robotics and is currently being trialled by CaliBurger. Over two years, CaliBurger plans to install Flippy in 50 locations. The employment of robot cooks in fast food chains could affect 2.3 million workers in the US alone.
Robot journalists might not have the human touch, but they have proved that they can produce articles of the same quality as a seasoned writer. The first article to cover the L.A. earthquake in March 2014 was put together by a piece of software, and a Chinese robot journalist covered the Beijing Olympics for news outlet Toutiao. Through AI, bots are far quicker at drawing together and condensing masses of information. The articles written by journobots still require the input of a human editor, but even so, writers (especially of news commentaries) will be seriously affected.
9. Truck driver
Robots are making life difficult for truckers as well as Deliveroo’s cyclists. Autonomous vehicles are now an unavoidable reality, so why pay a truck driver when the trucks can drive themselves? Late last year, Uber sent a self-driving truck on a 120 mile delivery journey to drop off 50,000 cans of beer. Human employees may still be needed to keep an eye on cargo and supervise the route, but this will be a considerably reduced role. Changes to the trucking industry will also effect businesses that survive on trucker custom.
Robotics and the military go hand in hand, especially where the US army is concerned. Towering, advanced robots like Big Dog and the humanoid Atlas developed by Boston Dynamics have been put to use in both training and real combat missions. By 2025, it’s thought that the US army could have more combat bots than human soldiers. In 2016, the Russian military revealed its own answer to Atlas – the Iron Man, which was created specifically to replace humans in high risk environments.
Robots can now perform at and above human levels in creative and highly skilled professions. Using robots in the workplace is a smart move for companies, because robots are more cost effective and time efficient than humans. And as much as robots will gobble up jobs, they will also create them. Robots aren’t necessarily the nemesis of human employees, but they are indefinitely transforming the employment market.