Thursday, March 19, 2015

More automation coming to a job near you - maybe your own

I've written often about the danger to many current jobs posed by automation, artificial intelligence and robotics.  Here are just a few of my previous articles.

Now the Financial Times warns that it's getting closer and closer to reality.

Meet Sawyer. It is the newest robot on the block designed to speed up automation in factories by taking on tasks that once relied on humans’ manual dexterity and good eyesight.

The machine is one of two new “collaborative” robots, or co-bots, launched this week that are part of a new generation of affordable lightweight robots that are unlocking new markets and applications beyond automotive and semiconductor manufacturing, where robots have been a mainstay for decades.

Robot companies have been rushing to develop co-bots, which can work side-by-side with employees rather than behind a safety cage, as they look to capitalise on a growing trend by manufacturers to turn to technology to compete amid rising wage costs and labour shortages.

Dan Kara, robotics practice director at ABI Research, believes the latest models will help boost the number of collaborative robots being used in factories. “The dexterity of the new generation of co-operative robots is improving . . . and they have the added advantage of working safely and effectively in workspaces occupied by humans,” says Mr Kara.

Lightweight collaborative robots are cheaper, more dexterous, easier to move between tasks and do not require specialist programming skills. Many of them can be taught new moves by simply taking the robot arm and moving it to show it what to do.

Sawyer will be marketed for $29,000, compared with a six figure sum for an industrial robot. Universal Robots sells its flexible, lightweight robot arms for between €20,000 to €30,000.

This has helped make automation more accessible for small and medium-sized businesses that previously could not afford the expensive heavyweight traditional industrial robots or did not consider them economical for smaller production volumes or contract manufacturing.

There's more at the link.  It's sobering reading.

Folks, I can't warn too strongly:  anywhere between six and seven out of every ten jobs that exist today are in serious danger of being automated out from under those who work in them.  Be aware of that potential in your field of work;  try to plan ahead when you see the signs;  and look for any and every opportunity to expand your skills or cross-train in more areas, so that you become indispensable and can't be replaced by a robot.  If worst comes to worst, change career fields and start over - only do it now, while you still have time, and beat the rush when everyone else tries to do it at the last minute.



Anonymous said...

I've been amused by the folks wanting "living wage" minimum hourly pay for fast-food workers and the like. No offense against them--I've done it, when I was much younger-but they don't seem aware that there've been machines for years that can make any burger it's told to make. The cost has been prohibitive.
$15/hr to flip burgers? Nope. $15/hr for 2-5 employees to keep the machine fed, stock napkins on tables, & clean the restrooms. They had better hope they don't get what they're wishing for; they'll protest themselves right out of work (at which point the welfare state will take over, so they don't lose, we do--[sigh]).
--Tennessee Budd

Mark said...

On the other hand, if you want 100% employment ... we could all go back and be subsistence farmers. Everyone would then be employed. Automation is the *only* multiplier of human activity that makes your work more valuable than it was 200 years ago.

Or to put it another way, those robots mean a pair of maintenance techs and one or two guys can do the work of 100. This a good thing. It means that 4 guys making $40 an hour instead of 100 making $15 can make the same stuff and sell it cheaper. All good.

Rolf said...

Automation is good, but it's far from the only answer. I like to see some things go higher tech, but others go lower. The bottom half of the bell curve need jobs too: why not things like fishing? instead of massive automated trawlers that strip-mine the sea with huge nets that obliterate one fishery after another, go out in sailboats with dory fisherman using long-lines? Employ people, have much less by-catch, much more selective in fishing, Eco-friendly, easy enough anyone can be taught to do it, but hard enough to convince most of them it's a good idea to invest the time and energy in training for something else.

Mark said...

Upper middle class and upper class (by wage) buy fair trade coffees. Sounds like you're wanting to sell fish branded the same way, "hand caught" fish or something like that. There are jobs like that if there are markets for that. No "we have to make that" from a federal/state (top-down) fiat required.

Jennifer said...

Don't assume your desk job is immune either. I am working to implement some pretty outstanding AI that blows my mind. And it means I don't have to hire another accounting clerk. This is a position that requires either an associates level degree or equivalent experience.
Heh. In fact, this tech could easily overcome your Captcha that I'm about to tell that I am not a robot.

Angry Gamer said...

I just had a thought...

How would people perceive a robot discussing race with retail customers?

Automation happens
I was just hearing from a friend about a plant he visited in Kentucky. Makes metal desks, about 2 Football fields in size, with 4 employees on site.

1 to do security front desk for like 10 visitors a year.
1 to do maintenance on machines not covered by vendors.
2 to make sure the part bins are full. (but that's mostly automated too) they also do shipping receiving when human drivers come to the dock.

3 of the 4 are bored.

Heck with Google Cars and Trucks you won't even have real drivers coming to the plant in the future.

Anonymous said...

"Automation is the *only* multiplier of human activity that makes your work more valuable than it was 200 years ago. " ? Maybe I'm not following what you mean by "automation". But... almost anything Capital does has made labor "more valuable". Shovels, pencils, ledgers, etc.

There are a lot of things broken in US labor, automation may be one of them but I don't think it's the most critical problem.

Anonymous said...

We bought a robotic welder at one of our shops, not so much that we wanted to pay the large up front capital expense at all. We d require some pretty exotic and technical welding skills at this facility. Paid good too. Once we got the welders on board and qualified half left (younger employees) to chase bigger dollars in pretty remote locations that we could not hope to match. Need to keep the plant working so in comes the machine. With the collapse of the price of oil a lot of those that left are now coming back and asking for work at their original rates. Those positions no longer exist.

A.B. Prosper said...

I'm just wondering how these businesses plan to stay around one we hit 65% plus unemployment?

Looking at Europe and Japan right now, we can see the consequences of that and they are not good.

Those societies are basically dying out.

The US is in a similar boat with a real unemployment and low wage rate around 50% as well.

We are charitably falling apart slowly but surely.

I'm trying to wonder what many decades of this would be like, whatever it is won't be good.

mostly cajun said...

Happily, I would be the guy who repaired the robots or made sure that the power came from the vast fields of farting unicorns and from the Skittles farms.

Not quite so happily, I'm just about over the edge of employment age, so I'll watch most of this from my rocking chair.


Jon said...

I work in IT, and the day they figure out how to let a robot do my job, the Robot can have it. ;)

I see the Mandatory living wage as a bigger threat to pretty much anyone with a job (From all ends) or that wants a job then automation.