Because they already do.
Farhad Manjoo is concerned about being by replaced by a robot:
Artificial intelligence machines are getting so good, so quickly, that they’re poised to replace humans across a wide range of industries. In the next decade, we’ll see machines barge into areas of the economy that we’d never suspected possible—they’ll be diagnosing your diseases, dispensing your medicine, handling your lawsuits, making fundamental scientific discoveries, and even writing stories just like this one. Economic theory holds that as these industries are revolutionized by technology, prices for their services will decline, and society as a whole will benefit. As I conducted my research, I found this argument convincing—robotic lawyers, for instance, will bring cheap legal services to the masses who can’t afford lawyers today. But there’s a dark side, too: Imagine you’ve spent three years in law school, two more years clerking, and the last decade trying to make partner—and now here comes a machine that can do much of your $400-per-hour job faster, and for a fraction of the cost. What do you do now?
…So if computers have already come for middle-skilled workers, and if low-skilled workers aren’t an attractive enough target, who’s left? That’s right: Professionals—people whose jobs required years of schooling, and who, consequently, make a lot of money doing them. As someone who is fascinated with technology, the stuff I found in my investigation of robots and the workforce tickled me. I got to see a room-size pill-dispensing robot, machines that can find cervical cancer on pap-smear slides, and even servers than can write news stories. As someone who likes his job (and his paycheck), what I saw terrified me.
I, for one, welcome our robotic overlords.
Actually, I’m not worried about this. Why?
Because, in genomics anyway, the robots are already here:
Robots and other high-throughput systems are faster, more reliable, and don’t get bored. These tools would allow data production–and thus, biological discovery–to occur at a qualitatively greater scale (e.g., genomics). This would also, I think, decrease the need for graduate students and post-docs as cheap labor.
Obviously, some areas of biology and certain kinds of experiments aren’t amenable to robotics or or high-throughput methods. But the more we can incorporate these methods, the more time we would have to spend on these ‘unmechanizable’ activities. It would also increase the future job prospects of Ph.Ds. How? Training would focus not on technique (although one should have good technique), but on analysis.
Now, what actually excites me is the bot that writes sports stories. I wonder if it can write science papers too….
Mr. Majoo should be worried. His articles aren’t usually much better than a chatbot could create.
Before I got my first personal computer, I imagined that it would save work. To my surprise, I did the same amount of work that I did before. What the computer did was to make me more productive. It allowed me to redefine my job, to some extent.
But what happens when computerization or robotization does not mean that the employer redefines the workers’ jobs, but simply replaces them, in whole or in part? Perhaps that indicates a failure of imagination, but in the short run it happens all too often.
Manjoo: “So if computers have already come for middle-skilled workers, and if low-skilled workers aren’t an attractive enough target, who’s left?”
Is it a question of degree of skill, or of type of skill? Things change. The mark of an expert today is mainly knowledge. But knowledge is readily available now. That means that the abilities to determine the relevance of knowledge, to interpret it, to assess it, and to utilize it are becoming more important. Some experts are becoming obsolete. Don’t worry. We are adapting.
Just in time for the latest scare, declining birth rates!
Computers are already wiping out paralegal jobs. You don’t need a law clerk to pull a citation. You just use a search service. You don’t need a paralegal to go through a mass of documents and index them, a computer can scan them (if necessary) and quickly index them. Some of the indexing software is pretty clever. You don’t need a go-fer to go down to the court house to get routine documents (e.g. letters of administration) or do simple filings, you can do it online.
They’ve already changed the way offices are structured. All those secretaries have been replaced by word processors, easy to operate copiers, computer printers and so on.
On the other hand, you still need judgment and responsibility. You still want a lawyer to choose the legal strategy, even if the computer compiles the brief. You still want a doctor to judge the scan, even if the computer provides items of interest and preliminary interpretations. You still want a journalist to provide a point of view (which is different from an opinion), even if the computer does a lot of the heavy lifting.
Maybe robots should have to interview for our jobs first. In a recent post, I describe what might happen when IBM’s Watson goes for an interview. http://www.ragingwisdom.com/?p=344