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12/11/2013
09:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
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10 Jobs Destined For Robots

The machines are coming for some of our jobs. Be afraid or welcome our new robot overlords, as you prefer.
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The robots are coming, and they want our jobs. That's progress. In the 20th century, they wanted our women.

Actually, the robots don't want all of our jobs. They're said to be capable of competing for about 47% of them, at least in the US, given current technological expectations. So only half of us will need to retrain. The other option is to join the Resistance. Who knew The Terminator was an employment double entendre?

The other half of us should get used to being lonely on the job, which may evolve into making sure our mechanized colleagues don't malfunction or do something unexpected. Small consolation though it may be, if you're the last human on the factory floor, you won't need to worry about turning out the lights when you leave. That's the sort of task robots do very well.

Google's acquisition of seven robotics and technology companies in the past six months and its decision to give its nascent robotics business to former Android chief Andy Rubin suggests a serious commitment to automation. This isn't a Google Wave-style expeditionary mission. It's a beachhead that will allow the company to expand beyond the ocean of ones and zeroes and into the territory of manufacturing, logistics, and commerce.

Automation has been a reality in manufacturing for years. But now that we're getting to the point of changing state laws to allow driverless vehicles, it's clear the robot revolution won't remain confined to factories.

Google's competitors are advancing the state of the art. Last year, Amazon bought Kiva Systems, the maker of the robots it uses to carry goods in its warehouses, for $775 million.

In fact, robots are already here among us. You just don't see them because they're hard to recognize, or they operate outside the public view.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, industrial robot shipments in the US increased 9% from 2011 to a record 22,414 units in 2012. From 2014 to 2016, global robot installations are expected to increase an average of 6% per year. At the end of 2012, there were 1.2 million to 1.5 million operational industrial robots in the world.

Losing a job to a machine may be a tragedy on a personal level, but it could be quite desirable on a macroeconomic scale. An Information Technology and Innovation Foundation paper published in September argues that fear of robots amounts to neo-Luddism, and that we should deploy more robots to increase productivity, which will improve the economy.

Though the paper veers from supported argument to dubious speculation in places (as when it states, "There is no upward limit to our desire to consume"), it may be that things will work out in the end between humans and robots -- at least in terms of our relationship with deferential, unarmed machines. But it's worth wondering whether the ITIF will change its tune when robots become capable of filling executive and managerial roles.

Click the image above to explore a few jobs that robots are already doing or have demonstrated the ability to do. Be afraid or welcome our new robot overlords, as you prefer.

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RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 1:09:05 PM
Re: Robots In Service Jobs
Automated train control has been in the news recently, with the derailment of a Metro North passenger train in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring many more. The train was going way too fast around a turn because of human error. A government-mandated, industry-funded ($20 billion in all) system development effort called Positive Train Control promises to slow trains down automatically when they're going too fast. Originally, the railroad companies hoped they could help pay for this effort by eliminating an on-board engineer for every train once they implement PTC (due around 2015). They're fighting the unions on that front.
msmith801
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msmith801,
User Rank: Strategist
12/11/2013 | 1:07:01 PM
Re: Yikes
You will want to carefully check for grammatical errors if you want to claim that your writing is well protected.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 12:22:41 PM
Re: Robots are no joke
One example that was missed here is the work being done by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to develop robots that can respond to disasters and emergencies that would endanger human first responders.  Teams are competing to build robots that, for instance, must find a way to get into a utility vehicle and drive it, move over muddy and uneven terrain, pick up a firehose and attach it, then turn it on. 

Read more at DARPA Challenge: Build Virtual Robots - InformationWeek
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
12/11/2013 | 12:19:30 PM
Yikes
I used to think my writing work was pretty well protected since it was creative, but since that kid release Summly and it made me realise even writing can get interferred with by autonomous procedures. 
vadertime
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vadertime,
User Rank: Strategist
12/11/2013 | 11:44:22 AM
They Are Coming
I've been following this story about Google's forray into robotics and Andy Rubin leading this group with great interest. As someone in the computer software industry, 30 + years, I have waiting for robotics to catch up. In the past 2 years, between Boston Dynamics, NASA and major universities around the nation, it seems like the process has sped up considerably. Just today I was reading an article about NASA developing a "human-like" robot for the DRC competition. Now, with Google in the mix with all their computing, engineering and scientific resources, it's going to really get interesting. It's just a matter of time. 

The manufacturing industry has been switching over to robotics and automated systems for decades. However, moving into the consumer world requires more finesse and complexity when it comes to robot-human interaction. The NASA Robot, named Valkyrie, is a prime example of a "human-friendly" robot, since it is covered in a fabric rather than cold steel or plastic. In this way, it is not repulsive when a human makes incidental contact with the robot. It also has a human-like appearance.

Boston Dynamics has been developing some very interesting robots for DARPA and the military over the past many years. Some of them are postitively frightening. However, their designs appear to me more geared towards robots that can challenge rough terrain and the great outdoors. Regardless, they appear to be one of the true pioneers in robotic ambulation and in robotic autonomy. 

After 35 years, C3PO and R2D2 are finally coming. For those of us who have chronic health problems, this may be a Godsent. By the way, there is a charming movie that came out earlier this year, available on demand from providers such as Netflix and Amazon called "Robot and Frank". It's a touching narrative on human-robot relationships.

 

 
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 11:14:43 AM
Making things easier
Autonomous vehicles -- car, plane, sailing devices -- worry me. Seems like there's a higher risk for error and disaster. But I can get behind robots that make monotonous jobs easier. I'm awaiting one that will do my laundry.
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 11:09:46 AM
Re: Robots In Service Jobs
Other people have probably seen this, but I live out in the sticks, so it was new to me. The truck that picks up our garbage recently was upgraded to one with giant arms that reach out and dump the trash cans into the back. Now instead of three poeple riding in every truck, there is only one man driving it. If your trash can is not 3 feet from the curb and facing in the right direction to be picked up, they simply ignore it and keep on driving.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 11:07:38 AM
Robots are no joke
Some of these jobs, unfortunately, really are better served by robots. Others like pilot, journalist, and pharmacist will become a hybrid -- some automation but mostly human. But the ones that can outright replace humans will do so (sailor, farm worker, warehouse worker). It's easy to say: 'Let the robots do the jobs we don't want if they can do them more cheaply and efficiently.' But there's just so many of us and we all need to work. People rendered useless by robotics will be forced to a life on the fringes, possibly crime.

Robotics and automation are increasingly hot topics. Google's acquisitions, Jeff Bezo's drones tease on 60 Minutes, rampant tech innovation and a sluggish economy are pushing the conversation forward. Five years ago, you joked about a robot taking your job. Now it's not so funny.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 10:38:31 AM
Robots In Service Jobs
I stayed in a hotel in NY this year that had a robot system for storing and retrieving guest luggage. That kind of experience makes you think about what other service jobs will disappear. What is the most unusual robot you have come across lately, readers?
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