It's well-known truth, however concerning, that robots and artificial intelligence are rapidly becoming more and more advanced. While the creators of various humanoid robots mostly display their ability to do seemingly gimmicky tasks like ride a bike, the technology behind such behavior is an incredible feat. Machine learning is extremely complicated, and whether it's hardware in the form of a human-like robot or software like Google's new Smart Reply feature in Gmail, innovation in the space has brought about the very real notion that machines could soon replace certain human jobs.
Obviously, no one likes to think their livelihood could just as easily be performed by a heartless, brainless machine. It's probably even worse to know that it could be performed better and for much cheaper. That's where we're headed, though, and not necessarily for purely menial jobs. Of course, those are the first to go, but the smarter technology as a whole becomes, the more complex problems it'll be able to solve without any human input. Just take a look at the robots big and small that come out of Japan's International Robot Exhibition (IREX) every other year. Japan has always been ahead of the world when it comes to technical innovation, which is exactly why they're the place to look for a glimpse of both the short-term and long-term future.
So what's in jeopardy?
The first jobs to go to robots have already been trending that way for years. Assembly lines, once fully staffed by humans putting together various parts of a product, have seen workers decrease for decades. So much so, in fact, that a factory in Dongguan City, China, has replaced 90 percent of humans with robots. Changying Precision Technology Company previously had 650 workers at the facility, but now has only 60, and eventually may only have 20 as its process of building cell phone parts becomes more and more automated.
Although not nearly as overtaken by machines at this point, taxis, postmen, deliverymen, and others whose occupation is driving-based could be next in line. The race to bring the first self-driving car to real roads has exploded in the past few years, and although regulatory hurdles will take a while to sort out, the technology for safe and effective autonomous vehicles is just about here. This is the bigger vision for companies such as Uber — bringing the entire on-demand economy to passengers as opposed to relying on expensive and mistake-prone humans. That's a harsh statement, but true — artificial intelligence has the ability to be significantly more efficient at many tasks currently performed by humans.
Of course, robots will have a hard time overtaking jobs that require more than just speed and efficiency. There are unforeseen factors in many intensive areas of work that only a human mind can analyze and solve in a creative manner. For example, perhaps robots can replace straightforward news writing and data writing, but they will never be able to create thoughtful, ambiguous reporting that's open to interpretation. Similarly, maybe robots in medicine will advance to the level of performing simple procedures, but complex surgeries and mental health will likely remain in the hands of humans, as they should.
Each human is a complex, unique individual, so the jobs that require them to tap into those qualities are likely the safest from being replaced by machines. Although many fear a world that's "run" by robots, such a scenario that suggests humans will eventually become pointless is a bit dramatic. Machines will continue to advance, but if we're smart about it, we'll divert their progress into enhancing human life and performance, not replacing it.
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