An article today in the Dallas Morning News discussed the current economic climate, the jobs outlook, and the great risk to both posed by … robots.
This is not to sound flippant; the situation is real. In Japan a few years ago, we heard stories that robots were set to take over 3.5 million jobs by 2025. Even in this country, robots have begun taking over more and more jobs that used to be done by human hands, as the DMN article states:
Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines; an Associated Press analysis finds that the future has arrived.
Here at Iconic, we are all about technology that makes us more efficient, more productive, and more successful. Should we fear the rise of the machine? Is a future in which robots have made human labor obsolete looming on the horizon?
Hard to say. But the International Federation of Robotics is more optimistic:
We can think about it like this. It is true that robots might be used more and more for menial tasks that used to be done by people. But technology and improved methods of production have been displacing human labor since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world. Robots will help to create jobs in some of the most critical industries of this century: consumer electronics, food, solar & wind power, and advanced battery manufacturing to name just a few.
But the thing to remember is that, until we reach the dawn of self-aware and self-actualizing robots a la Terminator, there will always be a need for people to drive the robotics industry forward. New applications of robotics mean that the tedious, mind-numbing, and often unsafe jobs that used to be done by humans can now be done by machines, freeing up human productivity and ingenuity for better work.
The pessimists have a point too, however. Although the increased use of robotics may allow the workforce to shift from unskilled, unsafe, and uninspiring labor to better, more interesting, and more human work, what about the fact that those more menial jobs used to be the launchpad for many people’s careers? Not everyone can, or wishes to, go to college to earn specialized education in specialized fields. Many people have gotten their start by working in a factory or manufacturer, learning their industry by hands-on experience and using that experience to move up to leadership roles — or to better, more interesting jobs in a different industry.
With robots taking over those entry-level jobs, what launchpad will take their place for laborers looking to get a start? In this economy, with jobs as scarce as they are, witnessing their disappearance at the hands of an army of robots is bound to be unsettling. But the remarkable thing about human ingenuity is, whenever we think we’ve made ourselves obsolete, someone dreams a new invention that launches us into a new era of discovery and possibilities. And with that inevitably comes a host of new jobs, from the lowest level to the highest.
The only thing that can make us obsolete is ourselves. If we let the flame of ingenuity and creativity and ambition die, no number of robots will save us — and there won’t be anything for them to defeat.