Why Automation and AI are Cool, Until They're Not


Image: (Pixabay/DrSJS)

Image: (Pixabay/DrSJS)

Every day, there's more news about automation, machine learning and AI. Already, some vendors are touting their ability to replace salespeople and even data scientists. Interestingly, the very people promoting these technologies aren't necessarily considering the impact on their own jobs.

In the past, knowledge jobs were exempt from automation, but with the rise of machine learning and AI, that's no longer true. In the near future, machines will be able to do even more tasks that have historically been done by humans.

Somewhere between doomsday predictions and automated utopia is a very real world of people, businesses and entire industries that need to adapt or risk obsolescence.

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One difference between yesterday's automation and today's automation (besides the level of machine intelligence) is the pace of change. Automating manufacturing was a very slow process because it required major capital investments and significant amounts of time to implement. In today's software-driven world, change occurs very quickly and the pace of change is accelerating.

The burning existential question is whether organizations and their employees can adapt to change fast enough this time. Will autonomous "things" and bots cause the staggering unemployment levels some foresee a decade from now, or will the number of new jobs compensate for the decline of traditional jobs?

[Read the full story by Lisa Morgan at InformationWeek.com]

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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Re: Changing Automation
  • 6/3/2017 4:48:06 PM
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@Lyndon writes I'm not convinced that the jobs of this type available would keep pace with the number of low-skill jobs being eliminated.

Agreed. And the job losses may not be limited to the low-skill positions. Better robots will be reliable and repairs will be a simple module replacement that the user does themselves. If the replacement cartridge is delivered by a drone, it doesn't leave much of an opportunity for new employment is the robot-servicing field.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 6/1/2017 9:07:24 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Predictable asks "What productive work is left for humans?

I would think there will be work for maintenance workers (e.g., plumbers, electricians, computer repairers, communications workers, vehicle mechanics, etc.) for some time to come. Also jobs (e.g. new product development) that require creativity.

The really massive impacts in terms of job replacement involve the lower-skilled workforce, and have already been happening in industries like motor vehicle production and other assembly line industries with repetitive tasks that could be easily automated.

While education may mitigate some of the employment impacts (by increasing skill sets, etc.) I'm still, well, pessimistic. Two reasons come to mind:

(1) The outlook for dramatically increasing technical and skills educational opportunities and resources in public education doesn't look sanguine in the USA's YOYO policy environment.

(2) Even if there were such programs, and a massive increase in workers with better technical skills for a "smart" economy, I'm not convinced that the jobs of this type available would keep pace with the number of low-skill jobs being eliminated.

..

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/30/2017 5:42:23 PM
NO RATINGS

Lyndon, fair point about the tax base and how this minimum living wage would be funded. Nothing short of a massive social upheaval will bring it into existence in the USA, which would have to include a rethink about our basic capitalistic economic structure.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/30/2017 5:04:50 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Broadway writes


... I think there are people thinking this through, the ones calling for a minimum living standards payout for everyone --- a lump sum of cash that everyone gets to get by. If people want and can to work, there will be nothing stopping them. But for people who won't or cannot work, they'll have support to get retrained, or to live a meager but practical existence. It may take a massive upheaval in our country to make this sort of mass welfare possible of course .


 

I'm somewhat familiar with this notion, but I'm not so sure that this will work in reality. So I'm skeptical that this has actually been thought through.

First, the stipend or "lump sum" I've seen proposed is about $1K per month, which probably would not cover even rent in most places. But I am extremely skeptical that, in a society dominated by a YOYO (You're On Your Own) mindset, there would be any political interest in such a scheme.

Just look at current budget priorities and policies, with massive cuts proposed in just about all social benefit programs, and not a single increase anywhere. And the unemployed and low-income are regarded as among the lowest of the low, somewhere close to criminals (already they're targeted for mandatory drug testing). In this society, I don't see hope for any sudden burst of generosity for those displaced by robots.

But even if there were ... where's the money to come from? In any capitalist system, public budgets are basically funded by tax receipts, especially from business profits and employee incomes. But in a context where profits and employment drop precipitously because of a plunge in consumer demand (via the process I predicted previously), what will sustain the tax base and the revenue stream to support some kind of massive public welfare program? Even at just $1K/month per person?

So far, I remain very skeptical about this ...

..

 

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/26/2017 11:27:29 AM
NO RATINGS

@Seth & @ Lyndon -

We're left with a bleak picture of the future.

  • Lower-skill Physical labor - Machines will quickly displace thousands of people employed in manual labor fields, starting with truck drivers
  • Higher-skill Physical labor - Machines will be perfectly capable of replacing work where there is a physical aspect of the role. Demonstrations have already shown robotic surgery (on pigs) and robots landing a 737 (in a simulator).
  • Intellectual work - Who hasn't seen the recent computer victories over world-renowned human players of GO?

What productive work is left for humans?

PC

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/26/2017 8:47:35 AM
NO RATINGS

Lyndon, I think there are people thinking this through, the ones calling for a minimum living standards payout for everyone --- a lump sum of cash that everyone gets to get by. If people want and can to work, there will be nothing stopping them. But for people who won't or cannot work, they'll have support to get retrained, or to live a meager but practical existence. It may take a massive upheaval in our country to make this sort of mass welfare possible of course ..

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/26/2017 8:47:25 AM
NO RATINGS

Lyndon, I think there are people thinking this through, the ones calling for a minimum living standards payout for everyone --- a lump sum of cash that everyone gets to get by. If people want and can to work, there will be nothing stopping them. But for people who won't or cannot work, they'll have support to get retrained, or to live a meager but practical existence. It may take a massive upheaval in our country to make this sort of mass welfare possible of course ..

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/25/2017 4:05:51 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Predictable writes

Historically, when buggy whips, wagon wheels and carriages were no longer viable; the people who worked in those industries could move to new types of employment that opened up with rubber tires and automobiles. The transition might be painful, both for individuals and communities; but there was a reasonalbe level of employment sometime after the old ways were gone.

I've expected that the disruptions caused by AI and the latest wave of technical changes to happen much the same way - we will survive and still have productive work for everyone even after machines are doing much of hte work that humans do today.

But today, I'm not so sure. Future machines should be able to do esentially all physical labor better than humans can. And once that happens, what law of economics says that there will be any employment for all the former truck drivers, painters, etc. that are put out of work? Couldn't this dislocation be similar to what happened to horses when the horse-drawn carriages were phased out? 

In 1915, the US horse population peaked at about 26 Million. A hundred years later, we have less than half as many - only about 10 Million. And if we limited ourselves to work horses, the drop would be even steeper.

Do you think the work for people will disapear like it did for horses?

My own answer is: Well, prettty much. I kinda hedge that because, after all, even today there's some tiny work still for horses (racehorces, for example).

As to what will actually happen, about all we can really do is speculate on possible future developments – SaneIT's suggestion of segments of the population relocating to Third World countries in search of jobs, for example. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that there will be coming some pretty severe dislocations, probably mass unrest leading to major upheavals.

I also think the capitalist economic model is going to have a very hard time dealing with the situation, mainly because it depends on demand from consumers who are also members of the workforce – i.e., dependent on jobs to provide income which becomes the consumer spending that drives the "demand" for the products/services being offered.  As the workforce drastically diminshes in size (with presumably a massively expanding destitute population), what then happens to consumer demand? I'm not really seeing anybody (economists, planners, political pundits, whatever) thinking all this through ...

..

Unemployed ? Don't Blame Automation or a Bot
  • 5/23/2017 9:15:48 PM
NO RATINGS

" Will autonomous "things" and bots cause the staggering unemployment levels some foresee a decade from now, or will the number of new jobs compensate for the decline of traditional jobs? "


I argue unemployment levels will increase regardless of automation because society is becoming much more complex. There is an entire technology based frontier ( of which automation is a part) that has already influenced unemployment levels. Quite simply those who do not retool are destined to find themselves unemployed. We are seeing this now and will continue to see this until those that don't believe they have to change actually do.

As far as the formation of new jobs, well I am sure many economists would agree that a new median will be achieved eventually.

Re: Changing Automation
  • 5/23/2017 1:46:30 AM
NO RATINGS

Well we are already seeing software replacing lawyers. JPMorganhas software that interprets commerical loan agreements.  The software named COIN does in secionds what took lawyers 360,000 hours to do.

In a robotic surgery breakthrough, a bot stitched up a pig's small intestines using its own vision, tools, and intelligence to carry out the procedure. What's more, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) did a better job on the operation than human surgeons who were given the same task.

If AI can do all that, I can't imagine anything it really can't do.

 

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