At last week’s World Economic Forum at Davos, the global elite shared a collective freak-out over a smart robot takeover.
While one of the panels covered the threat of autonomous killer robots, it was the prospect of job-stealing, AI-enhanced automatons that took center stage.
Alan Winfield, a professor in Electrical Engineering at the University of the West of England, told Bloomberg, “If some of the predictions about tech and employment come true, then we should all be worried. There need to be solutions.”
Meet four smart robots who are taking over jobs traditionally done by humans.
In 1967, a big shiny cash dispenser called the automated teller machine rose to power, completely reinventing the traditional banking experience.
Pepper, Softbank’s new humanoid robot, could trigger another huge shift in the customer service industry. The robots note facial expressions, body language, and vocal cues to identify human emotions and respond accordingly.
Pepper is already stationed at 140 Softbank Mobile stores in Japan, welcoming customers and providing them with relevant information. In the U.S., Pepper is “employed” by two Westfield Malls in the California Bay area, offering directions, playing games, and – most importantly – driving sales.
The future of shipping isn’t just about drones—it’s yet another space where smart robots are taking over. Starship Technologies’ self-driving delivery robots look like “coolers on wheels” and travel down sidewalks at a top speed of 4mph. They are slow, but effective at making deliveries within a 2-mile radius of the source, which is why both DoorDash and Postmates have teamed up with Starship to test the product’s ability to complete door-to-door food deliveries.
While robotics technology is already used in surgical and medical settings, it’s going to be a long while before smart robots begin performing open heart surgery on their own. For now, “companion robots” hold the most promise—taking over the role of traditional (and costly) in-home care for the elderly and disabled.
The IBM MERA (Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant) is currently being developed to “[detect] someone who has fallen (and help them if they can’t get up); and answer health-related questions, such as “what are symptoms of a stroke?”, to even scan and read heart rate, heart rate variability, and breathing rate.”
The bad news is that AI and smart robots will make some work obsolete. “I think what we’re reaching now is a time when we may have to find alternative careers through our lifetime,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella told Reuters.
Bank of America estimates that there’s a 90% risk or more of the following jobs being replaced by smart robots: Tour guides, bakers, butchers, pharmacy technicians, insurance sales agents, retail salespersons, tax collectors, telemarketers, accountants, and clerks.
But it’s not all bad. As Techcrunch put it last year, “New jobs will be created in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields like nanotechnology and robotics. A 2011 study found that one million industrial robots directly created nearly three million jobs.”