Robots have already taken over human “tasks”, but we have a long way to go before AI and robots outperform humans — and even this doesn’t necessarily spell our obsolesce or extinction from the workplace.
If the history of the Industrial Revolution or the dawn of computerization is anything to go by, the moment at which AI and robots outperform humans is the moment where we get to excel at singularly human tasks.
In other words, humans get to be uniquely human, leaving AI and robots to specialize in and drive within their own lane, performing tasks uniquely suited to their own makeup.
There’s something close at hand that you can look to in order to understand how this works: automation in businesses.
Automation is what we usually mean when we riff on ideas like, “efficient workplaces”, “tech industries creating more jobs than it destroys”, “the rapid rise of AI”, “the speed of incoming tech changes” and even “early adoption”.
When we’re talking automation, we simply can’t resist taking these points to a gloomy, doomsday scenario in which all humans are rendered completely redundant. Time to retreat to the fringes of society, guys.
Or else, we envision a strange Fukuyama-like utopia, blended with Richard Florida’s “Creative Class”, where self-involved humans are leisurely and happily sipping sodas on flying chairs, “Wall-E” style, while robots clean up after them.
AI in Reality
The reality, however, is not as much of a caricature. Yes, the “automation” of certain tasks in manufacturing or even entire sections of service being re-routed to robots. From learning and data science to project invoicing – repetitive tasks eliminate the need for humans to perform.
But, according to a report by Newsweek, “economists have shown that automation helps overall standards of living rise, literacy rates improve, average lifespan rates increase and crime rates drop”.
Automation offers a chance to upgrade one’s skills and shift focus and attention to matters that machines can’t necessarily solve.
Machines require data or inputs to be fed into them. So, they require humans to run. In the most abstract sense, even AI needs an object to collect data about — a user, a behavior, a process, etc. — before it can offer insights, learn about them and make autonomous decisions.
Automation in the “micro” sense
Automation in the most “micro” sense allows businesses to offload the repetitive tasks like invoicing, billing, task management and proposal writing, so that they can free up humans to do things like being better account executives by cultivating business relationships, check-in with project milestones, or even act on a report created by a robot and implement the decision recommended in a human way.
Automation in the “macro” sense
But what about the macro-level? We all like to panic and point to the “loss of jobs” and impending unemployment as a sure-thing when we see things like drones delivering mail and self-driving trucks. It’s as though the speed of A.I.’s “encroachment” only has one end and that is large periods of time where people are destitute.
Yes, the “robotization” of work means that even knowledge-based jobs are being automated to a certain extent. Areas of low-level accounting, medical diagnoses, the basic writing of reports and even stock trading are spaces in which better decisions are being made and faster data is being entered.
But, as Surya Ganguli, a leading AI scientist at Stanford University says, this just means that intelligent machines can occupy the tasks and spaces, such as the computing of large, complex mathematical data and proofs, designed specifically for their capacities, freeing up humans to do the naturally “human” tasks and jobs.
Future Forward: 5 Areas of Robot-Influenced Change
Tech changes are undoubtedly creating large-scale, rapid and noticeable disruptions in the economy, it’s actually in education and employment where these “disruptions” can offer the most benign and even profitable opportunities.
In other words, we’re going to have to re-frame learning and professional development throughout our professional adult lives alongside how, specifically, we find and land jobs that are actually suited for us and make a full range of our suite of skills.
What researchers have known for years about the positives of cultivating a growth mindset, now becomes integral to the way we understand humans in the digital context, the “age of robots”.
Jonathan Grudin, a principal design researcher at Microsoft believes that, in the end, “People will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central. It will undoubtedly play a greater role in the years ahead.”
If we’re going to witness “changes” in the way we work and function in society, robots are going to contribute to a macro- as well as micro-scale for progress.
Here are the areas where we’re going to witness some significant shifts — all leading to an acceleration of human progress:
- Changes in educational and learning environments
- Changes in workplace expectations
- The development of new credentials and markers of reputability, recognizability, and reliability
- A change in the very definition of jobs
- Integration in two major areas: of robotics and cloud services as well as of AI with human “work”
From “SaaS” or “RaaS”
Okay — 10 years might not be a “rational” estimate. Perhaps it’s closer to 40 or even 75 years, according to this article by MIT’s Technology Review.
The report quotes the work of researchers like Katja Grace at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford who find that while “AI will outperform humans in the next 10 years in tasks such as translating languages (by 2024)”, it’s not until 2031 when they’ll be able to match humans in retail or 2053, the point at which they may be able to perform as surgeons.
Until then, however, there’s a more significant and amiable change that is coming through — one that we not only control but, once again, benefit from. And that’s the integration of robotics into the ways we work.
The future of work lies in a shift from “SaaS” offerings to “Raas” offerings — “Robotics-as-a-service”.
How would this work?
According to a press release by Frost & Sullivan, the convergence of big data and cloud computing means a new opportunity to integrate robots into cloud functions.
SaaS or “software-as-a-service” already relies on cloud computing solutions to store data and manage projects. Now, the emergence of robots powered by the cloud will be what responds promptly in critical situations.
Right now, cloud robotics is still a largely B2B undertaking. Companies are already harnessing cloud robotics in order to effectively identify issues in other, production-line robots and address their upgrades and maintenance automatically before it ever becomes an issue. And, as cloud robotics grows alongside mobile technology, there’s no doubt it will trickle down to B2C.
We’ve been creating an increasingly large and interconnected digital ecosystem for humans via social networks. Now, it’s time to create a network for robots to manage, interface with and speak to other robots and AI.