By: Lucas Shannon, Staff Writer
If one was to poll the American public to ask what are the biggest problems facing our country today, the answers would most likely be familiar to all of us. Global warming, the economic recovery, the Affordable Care Act, and the Federal deficit, would be just a few of the answers that would most likely come from such a poll.
All of the aforementioned issues are indeed very important problems facing our country and in some cases, the global community. However, there is one pressing issue facing our country, and frankly the entire world that is seldom mentioned; the automation of the workforce.
According to an Oxford study “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” the rise of mobile robots and “smart computers” will threaten more than 700 occupations. This coming computerization of jobs will threaten to take the jobs of about 47 percent, or nearly half of the workforce in the United States, according to the report.
The best example of what the future may hold for the work force is the robot that Rethink Robotics is producing. His name is Baxter.
According to the company, Baxter “can be trained just as you would train a person”. His training would require no more than thirty minute instruction, and can do virtually any task within the reach of his movable arms. Baxter is revolutionary for two reasons. First, he requires no complex software programming in order to get him to perform tasks. This is because he has vision, and can watch what you do, and then mimic your actions. Secondly, Baxter is incredibly cheap. According to Gregg Hoy of ABC, purchasing a Baxter robot will only cost about $35,000 dollars.
This means that for the first time, companies such as Ford, and Chevy will not be the only companies that will be able to afford automation. This automation will now reach low skill workers who work for businesses of all sizes.
It is fair to argue, as college students, that this automation will not affect those who graduate with college degrees, because degrees allow graduates to work in higher skill jobs. But low skilled workers are not the only people in the workforce who are at risk of losing their jobs.
It is often assumed that automation will not affect the professional class in any significant way. However, professionals are indeed at risk of being replaced. Professions that have long been considered to be the exclusive work of humans, for example lawyers, may in fact be subject to the same fate as their working class counter parts. Computers can effortlessly perform tasks that would be incredibly difficult for humans to perform.
“E-discovery software… can mine huge volumes of material (like all the email correspondence in a civil suit) for damning evidence. The simplest software looks for specific keywords, but more sophisticated systems can detect patterns of behavior that might interest lawyers,” Farheed Manhoo of Slate.com explains.
Farheed goes on to point out that in the past, this was the life of first year associate lawyers. Now computers can do it much faster and at a much lower cost than these lawyers. Not to mention the fact that computers never get tired, hungry, or emotional.
Farheed, points out that it is unlikely that automated computers will replace all lawyers. The nature of the court system, the process of complex word play and human element required in the court of law will most likely still exist and will be best performed by a human. However, it is very possible that this coming automation makes it tougher for lawyers to land jobs, and the few lawyers lucky enough to have one, will likely spend a significant amount of time monitoring and working with their automated counterparts.
Automation is not a new phenomenon. Virtually every civilization throughout history has strived to create technology that makes life easier. In its relatively short history, the United States has experienced quite a bit of automation, most famously the Industrial Revolution. However, the automation revolution of work will be like nothing our society has had to deal with before.
Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Automation Revolution will affect workers, professionals, and creative minds. The workforce today has already seen the early tidal waves of change. According to Wall Street.com, Amazon has plans to automate their warehouses, in an attempt to increase efficiency and decrease the cost of labor.
The struggles of newspaper companies all across the United States have been well documented over the last half-decade. Companies all over the country have had to drastically change their approach after sales of printed issues dropped dramatically.
This development squeezed journalists, and it resulted in many newspapers having to drop writers in order to cut costs. Now, technological developments will threaten the jobs of journalists yet again. A few months ago, the Associated Press announced that they would begin using an automated service capable of writing 4,400 business stories.
The Automation Revolution is in its early stages, however it is inevitable, and we – the workers, professionals, and creative minds – will all lose. As long as it is more profitable for companies to employ automated computers and robots, humans will no longer employable.
This revolution will affect everyone, from the cashiers at grocery stores, to doctors, lawyers, and computer programmers, and yes, to us, the college graduates. We will be unemployable not because of lack of skills, but rather because we will be obsolete and simply relics of the past.
Our generation must recognize and not neglect this issue. It is imperative to figure out a solution-before it is too late.
For more information on this topic, check out CPG Grey’s YouTube Video, “Humans Need Not Apply.”