Will robots replace humans?
Humans are already no longer the dominant species on Earth. In 2014, the number of mobile electronic devices surpassed the number of people. If you include computers that are not mobile, the number of internet-connected devices will reach 34 billion by 2020.
Let’s consider only the most “intelligent” species of mobile device – the smartphone, which is basically a handheld computer running (almost exclusively) Android or iOS. Smartphones have come from nothing to near-dominance in a remarkably short time. The number of smartphones is projected to reach 6.1 billion in 2020, and will overtake the human population shortly thereafter.
Smartphones have high intelligence potential for two reasons: They have sensors (cameras, microphones, accelerometers, GPS, thermometers).They have real-time connections to immensely powerful server farms, which can operate without the battery power restrictions of phones. Many people living in advanced economies have already outsourced their memories and navigation skills to smartphones and cloud servers. The value-add of smartphones has been so great that we have gladly embraced them, despite the need to feed our little phones daily and constantly keep them connected through WiFi or 4G access.
So it is clear that we want personal computers that we can carry or wear all of the time. Will the same be true for robots? There are expected to be 31 million domestic robots in 2019, which is already far higher than the 2.6 million industrial robots projected for the same year.
We don’t want to do housework, and would gladly buy any robot that could be as useful as a dishwasher or a washing machine – but also adaptable to general cleaning. Driving is a huge waste of time that robot cars can do better, if we can teach them to do it. We are all living longer, and soon we won’t be able to look after all of those old people – either financially or in terms of available human labour. Automation of aged care will become crucial.
Modern office workers already have around 3–5 devices per person. Beyond that, exponential growth in the number of robots might be driven by the need for automated robot cleaning, repair and replacement – robots to fix robots. By that stage, we will could be onlookers in a robot society. Humans may be reduced to a fashionable hobby for robots, like a house plant or a pet.
Increasing numbers of businesses are now substituting humans with automated software to perform countless structured, routine administrative tasks which do not rely on human judgement.
However, rather than shiny robots moving around office buildings, as some may have imagined, the automation of certain tasks is made possible through existing software doing the job. These tasks involve transferring huge amounts of data from multiple sources such as email and spreadsheets to systems of record.
The jobs in question are high volume, highly repetitive and not suited to humans, who tend to make errors where robots do not, according to Professor Leslie Willcocks. “Robots are able to work on repetitive tasks tirelessly and continuously and in many businesses they are welcomed as valuable team members because they do the work that humans don’t want to do,” Professor Willcocks says.
Willcocks and his colleague Mary Lacity, a Visiting Professor at LSE, are researching the impact of “Robotic Process Automation” (RPA) in a number of UK companies and are finalising a book on the bigger picture of automation and the future of work, due to be published in February 2019.
The rise of machines isn’t just a movie plot. Professor Stephen Hawking says robots will replace humanity completely. The physicist said he believes artificial intelligence will eventually become so advanced it will essentially be a “new form of life that will outperform humans. “He says, “I fear that AI may replace humans altogether.
However, the future of the labour market may not be as automated and job-crushing as previous research has suggested, according to a new report from Pearson that suggests the jobs of tomorrow are likely to be more technically demanding than they are today, but won’t disappear entirely.
The study – conducted by researchers at Pearson and Oxford University evaluated ongoing employment, demographic, inequality and environmental trends in projecting out how the labour markets in the U.S. and the United Kingdom are likely to evolve over the next several years.
“The future of work is brighter than it seems– it is not going to be human versus machine, but rather human and machine,” John Fallon, Pearson’s chief executive officer, said in a statement accompanying the report. “It is clear that technology is changing the global economy and labour markets, but we still retain the ability to control our destiny.”
“The bottom line of our research: we can all stop worrying about machines taking our jobs,” said a fact sheet accompanying the report. “Society will have to find ways to combine human and machine capabilities.”