Automation and the Future of Human Employment

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote Robotics and Your Job to consider the role that robots will play in human society in the near future. Of course, robots are already doing mundane chores and those list of chores will increase as robot capabilities increase. The question of what sorts of work humans will do in the future has crossed my mind quite a lot as I’ve written Build Your Own PC on a Budget, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. In fact, both Luca and I have discussed the topic at depth. It isn’t just robotics, but the whole issue of automation that is important. Robots actually fill an incredibly small niche in the much larger topic of automation. Although articles like The end of humans working in service industry? seem to say that robots are the main issue, automation comes in all sorts of guises. When writing A Fuller Understanding of the Internet of Things I came to the conclusion that the services provided by technologies such as Smart TVs actually take jobs away from someone. In this case, a Smart TV rids us of the need to visit a video store, such as Blockbuster (assuming you were even around to remember these stores). Imagine all the jobs that were lost when Blockbuster closed its doors.

My vision for the future is that people will be able to work in occupations with lower risks, higher rewards, and greater interest. Unfortunately, not everyone wants a job like that. Some people really do want to go to work, clock in, place a tiny cog in a somewhat large wheel all day, clock out, and go home. They want something mindless that doesn’t require much effort, so losing service and assembly line type jobs to automation is a problem for them. In Robots are coming for your job the author states outright that most Americans think their job will still exist in 50 years, but the reality is that any job that currently pays under $20.00 an hour is likely to become a victim of automation. Many people insist that they’re irreplaceable, but the fact is that automation can easily take their job and employers are looking forward to the change because automation doesn’t require healthcare, pensions, vacation days, sick days, or salaries. Most importantly, automation does as its told. In the story The rise of greedy robots, the author lays out the basis for an increase in automation that maximizes business profit at the expense of workers. Articles such as On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs tell why people are still working a 40 hour work week when it truly isn’t necessary to do so. In short, if you really do insist on performing a task that is essentially pointless, the government and industry is perfectly willing to let you do so until a time when technology is so entrenched that it’s no longer possible to do anything about it (no, I’m not making this up). Even some relatively essential jobs, such as security, have a short life expectancy with the way things are changing (see How much security can you turn over to AI? and The eerie math that could predict terrorist attacks for details).

The question of how automation will affect human employment in the future remains. Theoretically, people could work a 15 hour work week even now, but then we’d have to give up some of our consumerism—the purchase of gadgets we really don’t need. In the previous paragraph, I talked about jobs that are safer, more interesting, and more fulfilling. There are also those pointless jobs that the government will doubtless prop up at some point to keep people from rioting. However, there is another occupation that will likely become a major source of employment, but only for the nit-picky, detail person. In The thin line between good and bad automation the author explores the problem of scripts calling scripts. Even though algorithms will eventually create and maintain other algorithms, which in turn means that automation will eventually build itself, someone will still have to monitor the outcomes of all that automation. In addition, the search for better algorithms continues (as described in The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World and More data or better models?). Of course, these occupations still require someone with a great education and a strong desire to do something significant as part of their occupation.

The point of all this speculation is that it isn’t possible to know precisely how the world will change due to the effects of automation, but it will most definitely change. Even though automation currently has limits, scientists are currently working on methods to extend automation even further so that the world science fiction authors have written about for years will finally come into being (perhaps not quite in the way they had envisioned, however). Your current occupation may not exist 10 years from now, much less 50 years from now. The smart thing to do is to assume your job is going to be gone and that you really do need a Plan B in place—a Plan B that may call for an increase in flexibility, training, and desire to do something interesting, rather than the same mundane task you’ve plodded along doing for the last ten years. Let me know your thoughts on the effects of automation at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Robotics and Your Job

Now that word has gotten around that I’ve been working with both data science projects (Python for Data Science for Dummies) and machine learning projects (Machine Learning for Dummies), people have begun asking me hard questions, such as whether a Terminator style robot is possible (it isn’t, Ex Machina and The Terminator notwithstanding) or whether they’ll be without work sometime soon (the topic of this post). (As an aside, deus ex machina is a literary plot device that has been around for a long time before the movie came out.)

Whether your job is secure depends on the kind of job you have, whether robotics will actually save money, what you believe as a person, and how your boss interprets all the hype currently out there. For example, if your claim to fame is flipping burgers, then you’d better be ready to get another job soon. McDonald’s is currently opening a store that uses robots in Phoenix and plans to have 25,000 more moved to robotics by the end of 2016. Some jobs are simply going to go away, no doubt about it.

However, robots aren’t always the answer to the question. Many experts see three scenarios: humans working for robots (as in a doctor collaborating with a robot to perform surgery more accurately and with greater efficiency), humans servicing robots (those McDonald’s jobs may be going away, but someone will have to maintain the robots), and robots working for humans (such as that Roomba that’s currently keeping your house clean). The point is that robots will actually create new jobs, but that means humans will need new skills. Instead of boring jobs that pay little, someone with the proper training can have an interesting job that pays moderately well.

An interesting backlash against automation has occurred in several areas. So, what you believe as a person does matter when it comes to the question of jobs. The story that tells the tale most succinctly appears in ComputerWorld, Taxpayer demand for human help soars, despite IRS automation. Sometimes people want a human to help them. This backlash could actually thwart strategies like the one McDonald’s plans to implement. If McDonald’s finds that the robots cost too much to run or that people are going to the competition to obtain food from other humans, it might need to reevaluate what appears to be a winning strategy. However, the backlash would need to involve a significant part of the population of people who buy food at McDonald’s to induce the company to make the change.

There is also the boss’ perspective to consider. A boss is only a boss as long as there is someone or something to manage. Even though your boss will begrudgingly give up your job to automation, you can be sure that giving up a job personally isn’t on the list of things to do. Some members of the press have resorted to viewing the future as a time when robots do everything and humans don’t work, but really, this viewpoint is a fantasy. However, it’s not a fantasy that companies such as Hitachi are experimenting with robot managers. Some employees actually prefer the consistent interaction of a robot boss. It’s unlikely that managers will take this invasion of their domain sitting down and do something to make using robots untenable.

It really is too soon to tell where robots will go for one simple reason. The algorithms used to make robots functional are still works in progress. In addition, society must decide the place that robots will take. The interaction between business and the people that businesses serve will play a distinct role in how things play out. However, all this said, your job will likely be different in the future due to the influences of robots. For the most part, I feel that life will be better for everyone after the adjustment, but that the adjustment will be quite hard. Let me know your thoughts on robots at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Future Including Virtual Reality

Seeing is believing—at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. However, seeing may not mean believing anything in the future. During the building of the PC for Build Your Own PC on a Budget, I investigated various new technologies, including virtual reality, where what you see may not exist at all. Of course, gamers are eagerly anticipating the Oculus Rift, which promises to transform gaming with a monitor into an experience where you really feel as if you’re there. This kind of technology isn’t quite available yet, but will be soon. Even when the hardware is ready and the drivers work as promised, truly immersive games will take time to create. Look for this experience to evolve over time to the point where the Holodeck featured in Star Trek actually does become a reality.

To attract attention and become viable, however, technology must answer specific needs today. It was with great interest that I read Marines test augmented reality battlefield. Unlike the Oculus Rift, this technology actually does exist today and it demonstrates some of the early uses of virtual reality that you can expect to see. In this case, the background is real—it’s an actual golf course. The virtual reality system adds the hardware of war to the scene, including tanks, mortars, and features, such as smoke. What the marine sees is a realistic battlefield that doesn’t exist anywhere but the viewer’s glasses. This is the sort of practical use of virtual reality that will continue to drive development until we get a holodeck sometime in the future.

Virtual reality for gamers and the armed services is nice, but it’s also becoming a reality for everyone else. Samsung and Facebook are introducing a virtual reality solution for movie goers. That’s right, you’ll be able to strap some glasses to your head and get transported to a comfy living room with a big screen TV where you can watch the latest movies offered by Netflix. The Gear VR device promises to change the way that people see movies forever. This particular device actually works with your smartphone, so you need a compatible smartphone to use it. In addition to movies, Gear VR also promises to let you play virtual reality game and become involved in other immersive environments. All you really need is the right app.

An immersive experience, where you eventually won’t be able to tell real from created, is what virtual reality promises. Using virtual reality, you could travel to other parts of the world, explore the ocean depths, or even saunter through the solar system as if you’re really there, but still be in your own home. Virtual reality will eventually transform all sorts of environments, including the classroom. Imagine children going to school, interacting with other students, learning from the best instructors, and never leaving their home. A student could get a top notch education for a fraction of the cost that students pay today.

Coupling virtual reality with other technologies, such as robotics, could also allow people to perform a great many unsafe tasks in perfect safety. A human could guide a robot through a virtual reality connection to perform real world tasks that would be unsafe for a human to perform alone. Think about the use of the technology in fighting fires or responding to terrible events that currently put first responders at risk. Virtual reality will eventually change the way we view the world around us and I hope that the experience is as positive as vendors are promising today. Let me know your thoughts about virtual reality at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Effects of Automation

After recently watching Disney’s new movie, Tomorrowland, I started thinking about the world that really could come about tomorrow. Of course, it will have many of the same problems we have today, but I’m sure it will also have a few new problems and hopefully, some of the old problems will see some sort of resolution. My recent forays into advanced math have given me a new perspective of just what it will take to create tomorrow. In writing both Python for Data Science for Dummies and MATLAB for Dummies I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the role that both math and science will play in creating this new world—not that there was any lack of appreciation before I wrote the books, but the vision now is clearer.

The fact of the matter is that people will require more education. Even plumbers and electricians will need to know more in order to deal with new technologies coming on the scene (think about performing tasks such as installing solar panels). It will come to a point where advanced schooling after high school (whether trade or technical) is going to become a necessity. Yes, people can still get jobs today without a college education, but those days are coming to an end with the advances in robotics I keep reading about. For example, a recent New York Times article, As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up, says quite a lot about the future of low paying jobs—they simply won’t exist. Articles such as the one found in MIT Technology Review, Robots That Learn Through Repetition, Not Programming, tell the story of why this is the case. In the future, robots will learn to perform new tasks as needed. The tone of some of these articles is a bit negative because we’re viewing the future through today’s eyes.

What I see in the future are opportunities for people to create, but in a safer environment than in the past. Just as it’s difficult to see the past as it actually was (the way the people viewed things at that time), trying to view the future, even if you have some inkling of what that future might contain, is difficult. For example, imagine having to saddle your horse before you can go anywhere—people today are used to simply climbing into the car and turning the key. However, if you lived in the early 1900s, a car was a really loud, obnoxious device that would spell the ruination of society—horses were far more practical and comfortable (interestingly enough, about 40 percent of those cars were steam powered). There is a difference in viewpoint that is hard to overcome (or even imagine for that matter). A ComputerWorld article, How enterprises can use artificial intelligence, describes how technology in the movies doesn’t quite match reality. In fact, you might find some of the ways in which advanced technologies and automation are used somewhat boring. Fraud detection hardly ranks as a highly exciting way to use technology, but it reflects the practical nature of how technology sees use today.

When I see kids today doing absolutely everything on a smartphone, I come to realize that they already live in a world far different from the one I knew as a child. There is no going back. Children today have different problems than I had simply because the technology is different. If I encountered a problem, I first had to find a phone to call someone for help—children today carry their phone with them (almost as another body part). Then again, children when I grew up didn’t have the problems with obesity that children do today.

A lot of the readers I talk with every day express various feelings about automation and all it entails—some are scared, others elated. The fact is that the future has always been different. Change is a part of the human condition. We’ll live through the changes that automation will create too. Let me know your thoughts on the changes that automation will bring at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

No Assembly Required

A problem with many robots today is that they’re bulky. Transporting the robot can be a problem because it takes up a lot of space. Unfortunately, some scenarios require that the robot arrive at its destination fully assembled. For example, there isn’t anyone on Mars to put a robot that lands there together. I’ve been following a number of stories about robots that self-assemble or transform in some way, but the story Engineers Built an Origami Robot That Can Fold and Crawl Without Human Intervention provides a great overview of what’s happening with robotic science today.

The idea that a robot can fold itself up into a form that’s akin to a sheet of paper and then unfold itself into a useful shape is phenomenal. According to The Guardian, the robot could see use on the battlefield or in space. The accompanying video is pretty impressive. The feeling is one of an autonomous machine that can almost think its way through some basic problems. The robot need not actually start out flat though. A recent InfoWorld story tells of a robot that can transform between an I shape and a 3 shape. This robot is being used to explore the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant and the shape changes are necessary for the robot to move freely. An update to the story on ComputerWorld, tells that the robot still has a ways to go before the shape shifting works without problem.

Of course, these machines are thinking in a way. A Wired article helps you understand the thinking that goes into the design of the origami robot. (The details of the transforming robot aren’t available at this time, but it does have a tether to allow outside interaction—something the origami robot doesn’t need.) Luca’s and my upcoming book, Python for Data Science for Dummies, can help you understand the science and programming behind the artificial intelligence in these robots to an even greater degree. The point is that the origami robot demonstrates that software and good engineering are working together to turn an inexpensive 2D technology into a viable robot that could perform a wide variety of tasks. The point of the Wired article is that the technology is both cheap and easy—it doesn’t rely on anything exotic to make it work. Meanwhile, the transforming robot shows that these devices can work in extremely hazardous conditions that humans could never tolerate.

The sexy view of robots in the movies is full fledged human looking devices or monster construction machines of the sort found in I, Robot. The fact of the matter is that we may very well produce robots of that sort (we’re building them at this moment to act as caregivers), but we’ll also produce a great many robots of other types, such as these origami and transforming robots. Think more along the lines of Blade Runner, which contains a wide variety of robot types. Consider how robots might be used in the real world to perform mundane tasks. For example, the Roomba looks nothing like a robot. It sort of looks like a really big hockey puck.

How do you think the introduction of robots into society will go? Will we continue to see a vast assortment of odd looking robots or will they begin to take on more human characteristics? The future looks truly amazing, but I’d like to hear your point of view today. Talk to me about robotics at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Learning as a Human

I started discussing the whole idea of robot perception from a primate level in Seeing as a Human. In that post I discussed the need for a robot not to just see objects, but to be able to understand that the object is something unique. The ability to comprehend what is being seen is something that robots must do in order to interact with society at large in a manner that humans will understand and appreciate. Before the concepts espoused in works of science fiction such as I, Robot can be realized, robots must first be able to interact with objects in a manner that programming simply can’t anticipate. That’s why the technology being explored by deep learning is so incredibly important to the advancement of robotics.

Two recent articles point to the fact that deep learning techniques are already starting to have an effect on robotic technology. The first is about the latest Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) challenge. A robot must be able to drive a vehicle, exit the vehicle, and then perform certain tasks. No, this isn’t science fiction, it’s actually a real world exercise. This challenge is significantly different from self-driving cars. In fact, people are actually riding in self-driving cars now and I see a future where all cars will become self-driving. However, asking a robot to drive a car, exit it, and then do something useful is a significantly more difficult test of robotic technology. To make such a test successful, the robot must be able to learn to at least some extent, from each trial. Deep learning provides the means for the robot to learn.

The second article seems mundane by comparison until you consider just what it is that the robot is trying to do, cook a meal that it hasn’t been trained to cook. In this case, the robot watches a YouTube video to learn how to cook the meal just as a human would. To perform this task requires that the robot be able to learn the task by watching the video—something that most people see as something only a human can do. The programming behind this feat breaks cooking down into tasks that the robot can perform. Each of these tasks is equivalent to a skill that a human would possess. Unlike humans, a robot can’t learn new skills yet, but it can reorganize the skills it does possess in an order that makes completing the recipe possible. So, if a recipe calls for coddling an egg and the robot doesn’t know how to perform this task, it’s unlikely that the robot will actually be able to use that recipe. A human, on the other hand, could learn to coddle an egg and then complete the recipe. So, we’re not talking anything near human level intelligence yet.

The potential for robots to free humans from mundane tasks is immense. However, the potential for robots to make life harder for humans is equally great (read Robot Induced Slavery). We’re at a point where some decisions about how technology will affect our lives must be made. Unfortunately, no one seems interested in making such decisions outright and the legal system is definitely behind the times. This means that each person must choose the ways in which technology affects his or her life quite carefully. What is your take on robotic technology? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Seeing as a Human

Neural networks intrigue me because of their ability to change the way in which computers work at a basic level. I last talked about them in my Considering the Future of Processing Power post. This post fed into the A Question of Balancing Robot Technologies post that explored possible ways in which neural networks could be used. The idea that neural networks provide a means of learning and of pattern recognition is central to the goals that this technology seeks to achieve. Even though robots are interesting, neural networks must first solve an even more basic problem. Current robot technology is hindered by an inability of the robot to see properly, so that it can avoid things like chairs in a room. There are all sorts of workarounds for the problem, but they all end up being kludges in the end. A recent ComputerWorld article, Computer vision finally matches primates’ ability, gives me hope that we may finally be turning the corner on making robots that can interact well with the real world.

In this case, the focus is on making it possible for a robot to see just like humans do. Actually, the sensors would be used for all sorts of other technologies, but it’s the use in robots that interests me most. A robot that can truly see as well as a human would be invaluable when it comes to performing complex tasks, such as monitoring a patient or fighting a fire. In both cases, it’s the ability actually determine what is being seen that is important. In the case of a robotic nurse, it becomes possible to see the same sorts of things a human nurse sees, such as the start of an infection. When looking at a fire fighting robot, it becomes possible to pick out the body of someone to rescue amidst the flames. Video cameras alone can’t allow a robot to see what the camera is providing in the form of data.

However, just seeing isn’t enough either. Yes, picking out patterns in the display and understanding where each object begins and ends is important. However, in order to use the data, a robot would also need to comprehend what each object is and determine whether that object is important. A burning piece of wood in a fire might not be important, but the human lying in the corner needing help is. The robot would need to comprehend that the object it sees is a human and not a burning piece of wood.

Using standard processors would never work for these applications because standard processors work too slow and can’t remember knowledge learned. Neural networks make it possible for a robot to detect objects, determine which objects are important, focus on specific objects, and then perform tasks based on those selected objects. A human would still need to make certain decisions, but a robot could quickly assess a situation, tell the human operator only the information needed to make a decision, and then act on that decision in the operator’s stead. In short, neural networks make it possible to begin looking at robots as valuable companions to humans in critical situations.

Robot technology still has a long way to go before you start seeing robots of the sort presented in Star Wars. However, each step brings us a little closer to realizing the potential of robots to reduce human suffering and to reduce the potential for injuries. Let me know your thoughts about neural networks at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Robot Induced Slavery

I’ve written many posts in this blog about the usefulness of robots. Robots can server all kinds of useful purposes—everything from allowing people to live on their own to keeping people out of hostile environments that could cause death. In fact, robots are definitely in our future. At some point, there won’t be enough young people to deal with all of the people who need special care. Countries like Japan are already having this problem. Of course, every positive use of a technology comes with an equally (and sometimes significantly greater) negative use. So, I was appalled this past week to read the InfoWorld article, “Working conditions? Amazon’s robots have no complaints.” The article presents a view of the future for humans and robots working together that frankly sends chills up my spine. It asks the question of when our technology will become the master and us the slave.

It’s easy to view technology that reduces costs and makes nearly instant deliveries possible as a positive when it isn’t your job or work environment that has been affected. However, everyone’s job and everyone’s work environment are going to be affected by robots at some point. The constant enhancement of artificial intelligence and robotic technology make the combination of human and robot efforts inevitable at some point. So, it’s not a matter of feeling sort of sad for the other fellow as you immerse yourself in stuff made possible by robotic effort.

Am I saying that we should pull the plug? No, that’s a nonsense position and it’s completely unobtainable. However, what I am saying is that there needs to be rules in place for human and robot interactions. People constantly complain about the economy now—how the poor are pulling everyone down and we’d be best off without them. Let’s just replace them with robots who won’t complain. Of course, if you get rid of the current poor, the new poor are the people who are in the hierarchy just above them. There is no stopping the slide into chaos once you ignore the rights of those who are least able to protect themselves. We all become slaves when we put even one human into slavery and that’s where some technologies are headed right now.

There is a fine balance between enhanced use of technology to make the human condition better and turning people into slaves. Unfortunately, there aren’t any rule books on the topic right now. Amazon is getting by with what it is doing because no one has created a rule to say its wrong. The corporate environment looks for efficiency and cost savings wherever they exist. Only humans can make rules that protect others from harm and we need to start addressing this issue now.

The problem will have to be addressed at some point. Even if we ignore it completely, the people who are affected by the incursions of robots and the problems they can cause in the work environment won’t forget what has happened to them easily. Eventually, there will be protests, possibly violent. Addressing the situation now will help keep this ticking time bomb from going off in the first place. People have to have rights in the workplace that include not having their performance measured against what a robot can do. It also means that we need to provide training as necessary to help people move into new positions when robots take over a less interesting and mundane position. Robots can be an asset or a problem. I’d prefer to see them become an asset.

What is your perspective on robots and their use to help people? Do you think Amazon has gone too far or simply not thought the work environment problem through? How would you change things? Let me know your thoughts on this important topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Using 3D Printing for Urgent Medical Needs

The uses for 3D printing technology continue to amaze me. For example, it’s estimated that 2/3 of manufacturers now use some type of 3D printing technology. This technology has the potential for significantly changing how doctors practice medicine. More importantly, it has the potential for changing how emergency services are offered. I actually started this series of posts by looking at some potential uses for 3D printing in the Thinking About 3D Printing Technology post. In fact, this is my sixth post about 3D printing technology.

The interesting thing about 3D printing technology is that it can be used to create body parts that won’t suffer rejection because the parts are made from the recipient’s own DNA.The latest use of 3D printing technology is to create skin for burn victims and others that will completely match the person’s own skin. The interesting part is that the skin can contain hair follicles and sweat glands, just as the original skin did. This means that there is a potential for creating new skin that looks completely natural because it won’t actually be any different from the person’s original skin.

It won’t be long and people will be able to get a replica of nearly any body part printed for various uses. Of course, the first use that comes to mind is as a replacement part when an older body part because dysfunctional. However, the uses go well beyond simple part replacement. By creating replicas of existing body parts, a doctor can test for drug interactions and other potential problems before starting a patient on a course of treatment. Many of the issues that patients face today will go away simply because the treatment can be tested fully before it’s applied to the person in question.

What intrigues me most is how this technology will eventually affect emergency services. Imagine what would happen if a first responder was able to apply a bandage created from skin printed from a person’s DNA right in the field. The temporary skin has the potential for decreasing all sorts of problems that people experience today because bandages sometimes just can’t do the job fully. A recent Smithsonian article, Inside the Technology That Can Turn Your Smartphone into a Personal Doctor, put an even stronger emphasis on things for me. When you think about the potential for advanced diagnostic equipment in the field combined with the incredible potential of technologies such as 3D printing, you start to understand that things are going to change in a big way in the next ten years or so. You may not even recognize today’s paramedic any longer. A paramedic may carry a tricorder-type device, rely on a robotic helper coupled to a doctor at a hospital for advice, and perform life saving measures that we can’t even dream of today.

I sometimes look at how computers, computer hardware, and other kinds of technology are being combined today and I’m just amazed. Even though many people view 3D printing as a fad that won’t last very long, I’m beginning to think that it will eventually become an essential part of daily living. Just as PCs were once viewed as toys (useless toys at that), some of the technologies that are in their infancy today will eventually prove themselves.

Where do you think 3D printing is heading? Let me know your thoughts on the matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. What I’d like to hear about most is how you’d like to see this technology covered in upcoming books (or whether you have any interest in it at all).

 

A Question of Balancing Robot Technologies

The question of just how robots will affect us in the future consumes quite a bit of my time because I’m so interested in how they can be used for good. For example, robots are currently used to fight fires and to keep humans out of inhospitable environments. We also rely on robots to build some of the goods we enjoy and as a result, there are fewer assembly line accidents today than there were in the past (the quality of the output is also increasing). In the future, you can count on robot technology to help you remain independent, rather than ending up in a nursing home. There are even cars that rely on robots to drive them today and if things turn out as I expect, everyone will eventually use this sort of vehicle because robots will actually follow the traffic laws and reduce accidents as a result. In fact, it’s not too surprising to think that robots will appear in a lot of different situations that you don’t see them in today.

Humans are afraid of change. So, I’m also not surprised to find reports online that range from robots stealing jobs to terminator type robots killing us all off in order to save us (as in I, Robot). The fact is that robots really are under our control and as long as we exercise even a modicum of judgement, things will remain that way. I’m not saying that we couldn’t create a terminator-style robot. Recent advances in chip technology make it quite possible that we could create such a robot, but it’s important to ask why we’d ever do such a thing. In order for a new robot to become successful, there has to be a commercial reason to develop it and no one is interested in creating a terminator to destroy the human race.

What I think is more likely to happen is that robots will become companions to humans—devices that are both willing and able to take the risk out of human existence. The reduction of risk is an essential element in the robot/human relationship. We’ll continue to increase our use of robots as long as we can see a significant benefit to our personal lives. For example, it would be nice if we could eliminate the use of nursing homes altogether—that people could continue to live in their homes using robotic assistance. And, because those robots would be dedicated to the humans they serve, the standard of caregiving would increase dramatically. Of course, we have to get used to the idea of talking to a mechanical contrivance. Wait, we already do that—just consider how people interact with applications like Apple’s Siri.

Of course, people are asking what humans will do in the future if robots take on all of the tasks we have them slated for. For better or worse, the human condition has been changing at an ever more rapid pace over the last several years. If you look at just one statistic, you’ll miss what I’m trying to say here. For example, humans now live to an average age of 80 in many areas of the world—the average age will only increase barring some major change. People have children later in life now and focus more on career during the early years. Schools focus on getting kids to college and the college courses are becoming more challenging. In short, the environment in which we live today will change significantly in the next 40 or 50 years—to the point that most people won’t recognize the future as being any part of the past.

The change that has grabbed my attention most though is how much technology is now incorporated into humans (and the pace is only increasing). Yes, most of the technology currently does things like help people walk—it meets accessibility requirements. However, it’s only a matter of time before the technology will be used to help extend life and potentially make humans better adapted at excelling at tasks that we can’t even imagine now. So the question isn’t one of robots stealing jobs or killing us off terminator style, it’s one of understanding that humans are changing is a significant way and we’ll actually need robots to excel in the future. Let me know your thoughts about robots and our future at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.