Some Thoughts on Robotics, Automation, and AI
We will not slow down or stop the increased use of automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace nor should we. What we do need to consider is the impact these changes are and will have on people. This isn’t the first industrial or technological revolution and won’t be the last. Each revolution has resulted in some job types being eliminated and new ones created. People adapt to change the best they can to the new world of work and continue to live their lives.
The Positive Side of Robotics
There are many positives coming out of the advances in robotics. Industrial robots eliminate the heavy lifting and other dangerous tasks workers used to perform. Exoskeletons like those shown in this video are making it possible for the disabled to walk and workers to avoid injury. And isn’t it amazing that we can send machines into disaster areas to look for survivors and offer aid? Although perhaps not strictly related to this topic, I was excited to hear that the first kidney for organ transplant was delivered via drone. Robotics used for surgery have helped achieve better outcomes and shortened recovery times. There is so much potential for good from the use of technology in our lives.
Challenges We Face
Several years ago I read Martin Ford’s book Rise of the Robots (NYT Book Review). The final paragraph indicates that the impact of automation and the use of artificial intelligence will be immense, but that the end results and effects on humanity are not clear.
“The greatest risk is that we could face a “perfect storm”- a situation where technological unemployment and environmental impact unfold roughly in parallel, reinforcing and perhaps even amplifying each other. If, however, we can fully leverage advancing technology as a solution – while recognizing and adapting to its implications for employment and the distribution of income – then the outcome is likely to be far more optimistic. Negotiating a path through these entangled forces and crafting a future that offers broad-based security and prosperity may prove to be the greatest challenge of our time.”
— Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots, Concluding Paragraph
What Can We Do?
There are things we can do as a society to help smooth the transition for workers who are displaced by automation and there are steps we can take to make future generations more adaptable to change. Technology has the potential to create educational opportunities worldwide. This is one of the keys to the future. While Ford states in his book that we can’t educate or train ourselves out of this situation, I still believe that education is a part of the solution. Companies must take an active role in offering training to workers displaced by automation. Older workers, in particular, must be cared for as they face great change late in life. Society must reevaluate what we value and what brings meaning to peoples lives.
Our company, The One Union, is not against automation, robotics, or any technology that improves the world we live in. We must remember though that it is the human experience that defines our world. Technology will play an ever-increasing role in our lives, but can it or should it ever replace human interaction? We want to help find a way for people who work hard to be paid a living wage and feel valued in our society. Is this a bad idea? No matter what your job is, can’t we agree that it is important to respect our fellow citizens?
My vision is for a world in which technology frees humans from repetitive and dangerous tasks and allows them to explore their many unique skills and talents. Imagine the great works people will do!