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Engineering Materials

Will Robots Give Jobs or Take Them Away?

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Ann R. Thryft
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Fear of losing job is *not* overhyped
Ann R. Thryft   7/22/2014 3:18:04 PM
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You're welcome, Deberah, I think Daniyal_Ali is correct, though: there are likely to be far fewer jobs within a given factory related to maintaining/repairing robots or programming them than the number of jobs they replace. Otherwise there wouldn't be much incentive for manufacturers to replace humans with robots in the first place.



Ann R. Thryft
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Fear of losing jobs *not* overhyped
Ann R. Thryft   7/22/2014 3:12:11 PM
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Several commenters took my questions seriously, and I appreciate that. Daniyal_Ali, thanks for your input. I think you made a very good point about the timing of when a worker is displaced by a robot. An older worker, whether less-skilled or skilled, has built up a level of expertise, knowledge and experience that is not entirely replaceable by any machine. That used to be called "institutional knowledge," and is still valued in some industries and some companies. But apparently not by the hospital you describe. From the workers' standpoint, even if such workers learn a new set of skills, they will come back into the job market at a much lower skill level. Meanwhile, as the BLS numbers show, there's an overall shift in US jobs toward part-time, less-skilled jobs that have fewer benefits. That's not an encouraging combination.

jhankwitz
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Darwin
jhankwitz   7/22/2014 3:05:03 PM
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Charles Darwin provided an overview of the natural order of the universe.  Survival of the fittest has endured for millions of years, and there's nothing mankind can do to change it.  We try to have the fittest support the rest, but that becomes more and more difficult to do as that support breads mediocrity and complacency. Mankind has a God-given ability to choose their destiny from day one, and we are forced to live with those choices for eternity. Until man decides to choose and work to be among the fittest he will have to face Darwin's fate, like it or not.

jhankwitz
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Darwin
jhankwitz   7/22/2014 3:04:53 PM
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Charles Darwin provided an overview of the natural order of the universe.  Survival of the fittest has endured for millions of years, and there's nothing mankind can do to change it.  We try to have the fittest support the rest, but that becomes more and more difficult to do as that support breads mediocrity and complacency. Mankind has a God-given ability to choose their destiny from day one, and we are forced to live with those choices for eternity. Until man decides to choose and work to be among the fittest he will have to face Darwin's fate, like it or not.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Fear of losing job is a bit overhyped
Ann R. Thryft   7/22/2014 1:21:13 PM
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mrdon, thanks for taking my questions in this article seriously. I was hoping you would weigh in on this subject because I know you are involved in robotics, and your comments tell me you are someone who thinks about the social, as well as technological, implications. That's an interesting point about service/repair jobs, as well as robot design jobs. But since robots are, indeed, more efficient than humans, there's not a one-to-one replacement, as the numbers will show in Part Two.

William K.
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Re: Fear of losing job is grossly understated
William K.   7/22/2014 1:11:50 PM
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R-M is certainly correct about a lot of the situation. The robots displace the cheap labor when it becomes excessivly expensive, such as when external forces demand that labor be paid more than the value it delivers. That fact should be held out for the unions and high-minimum-wage advocates to understand. 

The facts also are that while it does create one high skilled position to put in a robot, that same one person can support a lot of robots, since, mostly, robots don't need much attention once they are programmed. So one skilled tech can support a whole assembly line of robots doing jobs that humans had been doing. But there is still a need for a means to make sure the robots have the parts to assemble. That may still be a humans job, but it might not pay as well.

So the new jobs do demand much higher skill levels than the ones being ended.

Battar
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Re: Fear of losing job is grossly understated
Battar   7/22/2014 11:05:51 AM
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Rogue,

           As you noted, for low skilled labout the choice is either out-sourcing the job to developing, low labour cost nations, or employing a robot to do the work locally. Either way, the job is gone.

RogueMoon
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Fear of losing job is grossly understated
RogueMoon   7/22/2014 10:46:25 AM
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Battar,

But in your example, you illustrate one key reason why there is a lot of reason to fear robots replacing workers.  In order to justify the cost of a robot that gets cheaper every year, you have to keep labor costs below this threshhold.  $4/hour for 60hr/wk may be great pay in developing countries, but in the industrialized nations it means the death of those jobs.  One can not live on $4/hour in the industrialized world, period.

Ann,

This is an excellent article.  Keep this line of inquiry going because it is having a profound effect on the job market right now.  Everyone should be critical of the statement that robots create jobs.  One has to ask more questions like: "What kinds of jobs will be needed now if the robots take away the manual labor?"  "Does the present population have these skills?"  "will companies pay what it takes to retrain workers to become useful again?"

This leads to another stark conclusion that all of these "new-tech" jobs that will be needed with robots and automation are getting filled by younger tech-savvy workers (drones) that get hired on temporary contracts then get laid-off for new upstart workers with update skill bases once the first crew asks for a raise.

Outsourcing labor was how corporations got away with keeping profits high by simply finding a workforce that they can pay substantially less.  The issue in the future may be that no human can work cheaply enough.

 

Battar
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Re: Fear of losing job is a bit overhyped
Battar   7/22/2014 10:28:33 AM
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There is a lot of low cost labor in the global market, and it is just not cost effective to replace a 4$-an-hour/60 hours a week worker with a robot which costs $75000 and lasts 5 years. (and thats just one example). Robots will mainly be used in jobs which humans simply cannot do - because of environment, safety, accuracy or speed And no, the Roomba doesn't replace the hired home help, does it? 

TomBee
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Robo-Cars
TomBee   7/22/2014 10:01:05 AM
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I had a most disturbing discussion with my best friend from high school. He ranted on about the careless disregard for truck drivers and cabbies being sent to the unemployment line when self-driving cars become generally available. I couldn't persuade him to see that as we reach our senior status in the next 7 years it will be a boon to our generation as we become less capable of safe driving into our 70's, 80's and beyond.

He has a point. However, just as Luddites railed against the mechanization of factories and farms we must prepare our populations to adapt and find their most productive niche in society. Otherwise many of us would still be beasts of burden rather than engineers trying to solve problems.

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