Where I work we’re testing a new automated system that can manage far more PCs with fewer technical support personnel. It’s a combination software and hardware system that can be managed by fewer people, hence the savings in head count.
Head count? Isn’t that what robotics is all about? In decades past, we lifted up a telephone received, tapped the button a couple of times, and an operator came on the line. Did she ask for a number? In some cases, yes, but I am old enough to remember my grandparents simply telling the operator who to call. Those operator’s jobs were replaced by modern technology, and that wave is change is just beginning.
Talk To Me, Siri
In the not too distant past, whenever we ran into a software bug we would report it to the developer’s support desk (call, email, form, or whatever else worked), and technical personnel would attempt to repeat the problem so they could find a solution. Times have changed. Bugs and problems and crashes often are reported automatically, behind the scenes, with data gathered from your device and sent to the developer, and then automated systems hunt and scour the code for, uh, um, blemishes, and help to provide solutions.
On a per car manufactured basis, General Motors, Ford, Toyota, VW, and other modern car makers have need for fewer humans to construct each vehicle; all thanks to the age of robotics which function 24/7 and can be programed to produce higher quality with fewer mistakes and fewer humans. Politicians would do well to forget about the NAFTA treaty with Mexico, and worry more about what Walmart and China have done to eliminate manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Those jobs have been replaced by lower cost producers in other nations. And in China, even those lower cost human jobs are being replaced by even lower cost robotics. What goes around, comes around.
Apple’s Siri is but one example of this ongoing process that dates back centuries. We humans look for better ways to do what we do, to become more efficient, to improve quality, and all too often than means reducing the human component. No longer do we need to call someone at the library, ask a parent or teacher a question about a particular topic– now we can Google it. Using Siri.
Step by step, little by little, with seemingly invisible changes here and there, humans are putting humans out of work. Adobe has software that can capture a person’s voice in such detail, that merely entering text as you would into a word processor can trigger that person’s voice to speak anything you can type. Computer generated graphics can display human images that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing; blemishes, wrinkles, and aging included.
There once was a time when calling someone meant you needed to be near a telephone. Taking a photo required a camera, film, processing and prints. Weather forecasts for a specific area were reserved for radio announcers. What hath iPhone wrought? Today, the phone goes where we go. Cameras are built-in and processing to a photo or video is instant. Weather? I have three weather radar apps on my phone and as many weather forecast apps. I don’t even need to watch the news or sports or weather on TV because I have more access to the same information in my pocket.
The Human Equation
That leads me to my premise and title article. ‘Your job is not safe from robots.’ I don’t know what your job is, but there is a good chance that someone, somewhere, at some time has given consideration to what could be done to replace you with a machine and software.
That’s what humans do. Who needs foot soldiers when there are tanks and armored personnel carriers? Who needs those when there is superior air power? Who needs a counter clerk at McDonald’s when there’s a kiosk? For similar reasons, who needs a bank teller when a kiosk will do? Step by step and across the board, humans are eliminating humans from positions of employment, all in the name of productivity and efficiency.
Interestingly, we are starting to see human-like robotic companions. What will Siri be like in a few years when Apple introduces a hardware companion with software brains made of machine learning and powered by artificial intelligence? Bambi Brannan’s article on ‘Siri, Bossy Overlord‘ is cute but should be alarming. Why? Some of those cuddly creatures that Apple and others will create will also be capable of taking away our jobs.