Friday, 28 April 2017

Will Robots take over all our jobs?
The earliest known industrial robot was built by Griffith P. Taylor in 1937 and published in the Meccano Magazine on March 1938. The crane-like device was built almost entirely using Meccano parts, and powered by a single electric motor. Five axes of movement were possible, including grabbing items and rotating the arm of the machine. Automation was achieved using punched paper tape to energize solenoids, which would facilitate the movement of the crane's control levers. The robot could stack wooden blocks in pre-programmed patterns. The number of motor revolutions required for each desired movement was first plotted on graph paper. This information was then transferred to the paper tape, which was also driven by the robot's single motor.

George Devol applied for the first robotics patents in 1954 (granted in 1961). The first company to produce a robot was Unimation, founded by Devol and  Joseph Engelberger in 1956. Unimation robots were also called programmable transfer machines since their main use at first was to transfer objects from one point to another, less than a dozen feet or so apart. They used hydraulic actuators and were programmed in joint coordinates, the angles of the various joints were stored.  They were accurate to within 1/10,000 of an inch.

In 1969 Victor Scheinman at Stanford University invented the Stanford arm, an all-electric, 6-axis articulated robot designed to permit an arm solution. This allowed it accurately to follow arbitrary paths in space and widened the potential use of the robot to more sophisticated applications such as assembly and welding. Scheinman then designed a second arm for the MIT AI Lab, called the "MIT arm." Scheinman, after receiving a fellowship from Unimation to develop his designs, sold those designs to Unimation who further developed them with support from General Motors and later marketed it as the Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly Work.

Industrial robotics took off quite quickly in Europe, with both ABB Robotics and KUKA Robotics bringing robots to the market in 1973. ABB Robotics introduced the IRB 6 that is among the world's first commercially available all electric micro-processor controlled a robot. The first two IRB 6 robots were sold to Magnusson in Sweden for grinding and polishing pipe bends and were installed in production in January 1974. Also in 1973 KUKA Robotics built its first robot, known as FAMULUS, also one of the first articulated robots to have six electromechanically driven axes.                      

Interest in robotics increased in the late 1970s and many US companies entered the field, including large firms like General Electric, and General Motors (which formed joint venture FANUC Robotics with FANUC LTD in Japan. American startup companies  included Automatix  and  Adept Technology, Inc. At the height of the robot boom in 1984, Unimation was acquired by Westinghouse Electric Corporation for 107 million U.S. dollars. Westinghouse sold Unimation to Stäubli Faverges SCA of France in 1988, which is still making articulated robots for general industrial and clean-room applications and even bought the robotic division of Bosch in late 2004. Only a few non-Japanese companies ultimately managed to survive in this market, the major ones being: Adept Technology, Stäubli-Unimation, the Swedish-Swiss company ABB Asea Brown Boveri, which is the  German  company  KUKA Robotics and the Italian company Comau.       

If you have ever seen car manufacturers building the cars with robotic machines and/or watched the TV show How it is Made, you will marvel how these robotic machines put cars and other objects together without a human being around except the man who pushed the buttons to start the machines.  

I can remember the days when ads and commercials were telling anyone reading or watching them that robots would one day make physical work something of the past. They showed pictures of families skiing, swimming at the beach or camping in a forest which implied that they would never have to do physical work of any kind again.  The messages were uplifting. 

Who paid for these messages? It wasn’t the unions who represented the workers who were fired from their jobs and replaced by robots. It was the people who made these robots. Perhaps they didn’t want their factories burned to the ground by mobs of unemployed people.

If you think that all jobs are not going to be extinct, consider the fact that they now have robots that can do accounting. More pink slips. Soon robots will replace the sales people also. Actually, robots are doing accounting and sales. 

Where are all these former employees going to get their income from if they have no jobs to work at? Those subline pictures in which the robotic companies wanted everyone else to dream about, are a myth that will never happen.  That is because the unemployed former employees won’t have any money to go to those wonderful places I described earlier in this article. The dreams of the former workers will instead be nightmares. 

Now I can appreciate that some robotic machines are absolutely necessary but must all workers be sent out to the pasture so that robots will take over their jobs? Who will benefit the most if this happens? The workers who build them—that is until the robots they built take over their jobs. 

Let’s take a peek at the future. 

In Shanghai, visitors at the Consumer Electronics Show were able to have their meals cooked by an entire robotic kitchen. London's Moley Robotics designed the kitchen, which features two robot arms that will cook a variety of dishes for you as you select from an iTunes-style menu of items. The human cooks and waiters or waitresses are now unemployed.

The Congo has started to use “solar-powered aluminum robots” to direct traffic. The robots are able to rotate, and they have surveillance cameras so they can send images to local police stations where robots will immediately react if and when necessary. The human cops will no longer be needed so they too will be unemployed.

The company Somabar is creating a robot bartender that can make you any drink you choose. You would even be able to give it orders to the robotic bartenders via wi-fi from your smartphone. Where are the bartenders and the manager of the tavern? They were fired and are now unemployed.

A robot in a hospital in Sharon, Pennsylvania is using an ultraviolet light to destroy bacteria and viruses that could make patients sick. It should be pointed out that the robot does this job after standard cleaning procedures have been completed by robots. The cleaning staff are probably all fired.

A number of hospitals have started using robotic surgery. Several hospitals in Nevada are using a robot called Xi that results in “smaller incisions, less blood loss, fewer complications and shorter recovery periods. Many years ago, I convinced the government of the Province of Ontario to send and pay for the operation of a woman who had brain cancer to Sweden to have a very complicated brain operation using robotic equipment.

It is conceivable that in the future, family physicians, surgeons, nurses and dentists will all be robots. There will no need for medical schools since the robots will have been programmed by professors in those fields before they too were turfed from their jobs. 

A Silicon Valley company is designing a robot bellhop. Called the Botlr, it's a cylindrical machine on wheels, with a basin and a lid on top. It can hold standard room service items like toiletries, water bottles, and newspapers, and find it own way to hotel rooms. It can even ride the elevator and push the right button for the floor it wants.

The Arab tradition of camel racing now has a technological twist, as robots are increasingly playing the role of camel jockeys. The robots are controlled by racers, who follow the camels in their own vehicles, as a form of almost remote-controlled racing. There will be a time in the future when the robotic camel jockeys won’t need to the assistance of those pesty humans following behind them in their robotic driven cars. The cars and the robots will still be around—it’s the humans that won’t be around.

The International Federation of Robotics carries out an annual survey of the state on the robot business, and in one of its reports,  it showed a massive 43 per cent increase in the number of multipurpose robots sold in the United States in the years 2011. In Canada, the number of robots in the workforce jumped 72 per cent in the same year By 2017, the increase will be much higher.

Economists are only now beginning to wake up to the potential impact of our robotic pals who are fun to be with and who we find necessary. Experts are increasingly looking at robotics as one of the fundamental causes of what appears to be a growing income gap across the developed world. 

The theory behind it is largely indisputable.  Robots, unlike human workers, don’t take a salary, so when human workers are replaced by robots, the money that would have flowed into the economy in the form of wages instead flows to the company that owns the robots — that is, to executives and capital owners. So the more robots, the more capital owners and executives earn, and the less the fired employees and their families have to live on.
Young people getting a better education won’t do much to assist them in the future since there will be no jobs for them since those positions will all be filled by robots.

There are the 15 countries that have the most “robot density” — the highest ratio of robot workers to human workers. Not surprisingly, the countries known as manufacturing powerhouses — Germany and Japan, for example dominate the list followed by the United States. 

In the past, what we thought was that robots would do things that were the three D's: dangerous, dirty, and dull. Now they can do things that even humans cannot do successfully. The abilities of robots will only continue to expand. 

Many people fear a jobless future and their anxiety is not unwarranted. It has been estimated that one-third of jobs will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025. 

Artificial intelligence and robots are not just challenging blue-collar jobs. They are also starting to take over white-collar professions as well including sports reporters, online marketers, surgeons, anesthesiologists,  and financial analysts are already in danger of being replaced by robots. Some are taking over the driving of taxis, buses and locomotives in experiments.

The machines of the Industrial Revolution overcame the limitations of human muscle, while the robots and artificial intelligence of today are overcoming the limitations of our individual minds. They are also overtaking jobs fill by humans. While the Industrial Revolution ultimately led to more employment opportunities , economists are heavily debating whether or not we will see a different  result in the aftermath of the Robotic Machine Age.

While it is hard to fully anticipate the consequences of this major societal shift towards intelligent machines, for the time being, we can find comfort in the fact that we still have a leg up on robots for certain jobs: ones that require judgment, creative thinking, and human interaction. 

However my concern is; what are the uses of robotics going to do for persons who have been fired from their jobs and replaced by robots?  

Two Oxford University researchers issued a report predicting that nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be lost to machines within the next twenty years. The researchers, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, looked at seven hundred kinds of work and found that of those occupations, among the most susceptible to automation were loan officers, receptionists, paralegals, store clerks, taxi drivers, and security guards. Even computer programmers, the people writing the algorithms that are taking on these tasks, will not be immune. By their calculations, there is about a 50 percent chance that computer programming will also be outsourced to machines within the next two decades.

As a matter of fact, this is already happening, in part because programmers increasingly rely on “self-correcting” code—that is, a code that debugs and rewrites itself*—and in part because they are creating machines that are able to learn on the job. While these machines cannot think, per se, they can process phenomenal amounts of data with ever-increasing speed and use what they have learned to perform such functions as medical diagnosis, navigation, and translation, among many others. Add to these self-repairing robots that are able to negotiate hostile environments like radioactive power plants and collapsed mines and then fix themselves without human intercession when the need arises. The most recent events have shown us that some of these robots has been designed by the other robots themselves, suggesting that in the future even human roboticists may find themselves out of work. 

The term for what happens when human workers are replaced by machines was coined by John Maynard Keynes in 1930 in the essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. He called it “technological unemployment.” At the time, Keynes considered technical unemployment a transitory condition, “a temporary phase of maladjustment” brought on by “our discovery of means of economizing the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.” In the United States, for example, the mechanization of the railways around the time Keynes was writing his essay put nearly half a million people out of work. Similarly, rotary phones were making switchboard operators obsolete, while mechanical harvesters, plows, and combines were replacing traditional farmworkers, just as the first steam-engine tractors had replaced horses and oxen less than a century before. Machine efficiency was becoming so great that President Roosevelt, in 1935, told the nation that the economy might never be able to reabsorb all the workers who were being displaced. The more sanguine New York Times editorial board then accused the president of falling prey to the “calamity prophets.”  They were wrong and the president was right.

However, unemployment, which was at nearly 24 percent in 1932, dropped to less than 5 percent a decade later. It was then believed that it was a pattern that would reassert itself throughout the twentieth century: the economy would tank, automation would be identified as one of the main culprits, commentators would suggest that jobs were not coming back, and then the economy would rebound and with it employment, and all that nervous chatter about machines taking over would fade away.

When the economy faltered in 1958, and then again in 1961, what was being called the “automation problem” was taken up by Congress, which passed the Manpower Development and Training Act. In his State of the Union Address of 1962, President Kennedy explained that this law was meant “to stop the waste of able- bodied men and women who want to work, but whose only skill has been replaced by a machine, moved with a mill, or shut down with a mine.” Two years later, President Johnson convened a National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress to assess the economic effects of automation and technological change. But then a funny thing happened. By the time the commission issued its report in 1966, the economy was approaching full employment. Concern about machines supplanting workers abated. The commission was subsequently disbanded. 

That fear, though, was merely dormant, not gone. A Time magazine cover in 1980 titled The Robot Revolution showed a tentacled automaton strangling human workers. An essay three years later by an MIT economist named Harley Shaiken begins:

“As more and more attention is focused on economic recovery, for 11 million people the grim reality is continued unemployment. Against this backdrop the central issue raised by rampant and pervasive technological change is not simply how many people may be displaced in the coming decade but how many who are currently unemployed will never return to their jobs.” unquote

Fortunately, unemployment, which was approaching 10 percent at the time, then fell by half at decade’s end, and once more the automation problem receded. Alas, there was the problem again on the heels of the economic collapse of 2008. An investigation by the Associated Press in 2013 put it this way;

“Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle- class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over. And the situation is even worse than it appears. Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. They’re being obliterated by technology.                             

Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines; an Associated Press analysis finds that the future has arrived.” unquote

Here is what that future now looks like. Banking, logistics, surgery, and medical recordkeeping are just a few of the occupations that have already been given over to machines. Manufacturing, which has long been hospitable to mechanization and automation, is becoming more so as the cost of industrial robots drops, especially in relation to the cost of human labor. According to a new study by the Boston Consulting Group, currently the expectation is that machines, which now account for 10 percent of all manufacturing tasks, are likely to perform about 25 percent of them by 2025. (To understand the economics of this transition, one need only consider the American automotive industry, where a human spot welder costs about $25 an hour and a robotic one costs $8. The robot is faster and more accurate, too.) The Boston Group expects most of the growth in automation to be concentrated in transportation equipment, computer and electronic products, electrical equipment, and machinery. 

Xerox uses computers—not people—to select which applicants to hire for its call centers. The retail giant Amazon “employs” 15,000 warehouse robots to pull items off the shelf and pack boxes. That is 15.000 human employees out of a job. The self-driving car is being road-tested. That means taxi drivers, bus drivers and truck drivers will also be out of a job. 

A number of hotels are staffed by robotic desk clerks and cleaned by robotic chambermaids. Airports are instituting robotic valet parking. Cynthia Breazeal, the director of MIT’s personal robots group, raised $1 million in six days on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, and then $25 million in venture capital funding, to bring Jibo, “the world’s first social robot,” to market.

By 2013 there were 1.2 million industrial robots working worldwide which comes to one robot for every 5,000 people. How many of them were functioning in the following three years? Robots are currently analyzing documents, , and handling other tasks that were once exclusively done by humans. These robots don’t take time off and they aren’t tired or bored. 

The UCSF Medical Center recently launched an automated, robotics-controlled pharmacy at two UCSF hospitals. Once computers at the new pharmacy electronically receive medication orders from UCSF physicians and pharmacists, the robotics pick, package, and delivers the individual doses of pills to the proper patients.  The day will come when robots are filling the prescriptions and later still, when they are prescribing them.

Robotic machines assemble the doses which are all bar-coded onto a thin plastic ring that contains all the medications for a patient for a 12-hour period. 

Many companies are increasingly looking for ways to sell more products with fewer employees. ATM machines reduce the need for bank tellers, virtual assistants can answer the phone 24 hours a day, and self-service robotic machines are reducing the need for checkout clerks.

Retail employment had barely budged over the last year despite stronger sales at major chains. Meanwhile, $740 billion was transacted through self-service machines in 2010, up 9 percent from 2009.That number was projected to rise to $1.1 trillion by 2014.What are the figures now in 2017? Do those monetary figures also represent the income the former employees lost after being fired? 

Although soldiers have yet to be replaced by an army of robots, we seem to be moving in that direction as drones and other robotic machines are increasingly being used in reconnaissance and combat missions. 

One example is the MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), made by Foster-Miller, which has provided armed robots in Iraq. According to Wired, the robot is equipped with a GPS monitor; it can be programmed to differentiate between fire and no-fire zones, to open doors, and even to drag out injured bodies. 

How soon will these robotic soldiers begin firing all kinds of weapons without being under the direct control of humans?   

Now here is a very frightening question to ponder. How soon will robotic cyborgs begin attacking humans for the purpose of taking over the world for themselves? This century, the next century? If that happens, few humans will be spared in a robotic cyborg revolution as millions of people will be killed by the cyborgs.  But would humans be able to fight back?

There are computers than can already think for themselves such as those that play chess with humans. If we build soldiers that have computerized minds that can out think humans, what chance would humankind have for survival? 

Thank god that those of us who are still alive in this era won’t see that day come. But what about our great great grandchildren? Will they be terminated at the hands of the robots just like the Jews were at the hands of the Nazis? 

Great stuff for a movie but also a horrific end of humanity. 

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