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Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality

Another article on robots taking our jobs, this one in The Guardian: Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality.

The article sources from a 300-page report from investment bank Bank of America Merrill Lynch and draws on the latest research to outline the impact of what they regard as a fourth industrial revolution, after steam, mass production and electronics.

You can read a short synopsis of highlights below.

A San Francisco-based start-up called Momentum Machines has designed a robot that would replicate the hot, repetitive tasks of the fast-food worker: shaping burgers from ground meat, grilling them to order, toasting buns, and adding tomatoes, onions and pickles.

While “offshoring” can cut labour costs by 65%, replacing workers with machines can cut them by up to 90%. The process is well advanced in countries such as Japan and South Korea; as other countries catch up, many more jobs will be taken over by technology.

The authors calculate that the total global market for robots and artificial intelligence is expected to reach $152.7bn (£99bn) by 2020, and estimate that the adoption of these technologies could improve productivity by 30% in some industries. (see chart below)

Robotics Market - The Futures Agency - Source BCG

But it is not just low-skilled jobs, such as assembly-line work, that could be replaced: a report from the McKinsey Global Institute in 2013 found that up to $9tn in global wage costs could be saved as computers take over knowledge-intensive tasks such as analysing consumers’ credit ratings and providing financial advice.

“Doctors Some 570,000 “robo-surgery” operations were performed last year. Oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have used IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which can read 1m textbooks in three seconds, to help them with diagnosis. Other medical applications of computer technology involve everything from microscopic cameras to “robotic controlled catheters”.”

“Financial advisers Bespoke financial advice seems like the epitome of a “personal” service; but it could soon be replaced by increasingly sophisticated algorithms that can tailor their responses to an individual’s circumstances.”

“Care workers Merrill Lynch predicts that the global personal robot market, including so-called “care-bots”, could increase to $17bn over the next five years, “driven by rapidly ageing populations, a looming shortfall of care workers, and the need to enhance performance and assist rehabilitation of the elderly and disabled”.”

The authors of the report conclude: “We are facing a paradigm shift which will change the way we live and work. The pace of disruptive technological innovation has gone from linear to parabolic in recent years. Penetration of robots and artificial intelligence has hit every industry sector, and has become an integral part of our daily lives.”

Check out the Most Popular Posts on #Robotics on The Futures Agency blog.

Related articles on The Guardian:

Thinking machines: the skilled jobs that could be taken over by robots

Robots threaten 15m UK jobs, says Bank of England’s chief economist

Artificial intelligence: ‘Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods and the rest of us’

Some related images by @gleonhard

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work jobs learning living in the future gerd leonhard futurist.026

work jobs learning living in the future gerd leonhard futurist.020

technology and humanity the future gerd leonhard futurist london public.015

Posted by Rudy de Waele aka @mtrends / shift2020.com

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