Is Your Job Robot-Safe?

There are more robots in your life than you’d guess. Besides the flying ones that watch from above in places like Iraq, if you’ve ordered gifts from Amazon recently, robots have helped.

Amazon acquired Kiva Systems in 2012 for $775 million, and now 15,000 of its bots scurry about huge warehouses, grabbing goods off shelves and bringing them to humans for packing.

Replacing people with machines is nothing new. The Industrial Revolution got its start by replacing human labor, like weaving, with machines. In the late 19th century, Corning Glass employed thousands of glass blowers to turn out light bulbs. An expert two-person team could make two bulbs a minute. Then a Corning employee invented a bulb-making machine called the Ribbon. By the 1930s, it could crank out 2,000 bulbs a minute.

More than 90% of the agricultural jobs performed by people a century ago are gone. Elegant machines have taken over. The scene in the movie Interstellar in which harvesting machines operate independently using GPS is not science fiction. That happens now.

Your flight to see loved ones at the holidays was guided by smart machinery the whole way. The pilots mostly watched. And the plane landed robotically. How long before one of those two pilots upfront is replaced? There used to be four of them for overseas flights not long ago.

Last year, Google bought the eight largest and best robotics companies in the world. Google auto passengers have sat back and watched as the company’s self-drive cars racked up more than 700,000 miles in just a few years. Several auto companies now offer cars that stay within lanes, maintain a specific speed and stop if they detect something ahead. That’s not far from what a three-axis autopilot can do in an airplane — maintain altitude, speed and heading.

Robots clean windows, fill prescriptions, make sushi, help you with your banking, plant crops, vacuum floors, check out suspicious bags left in public places, make automobiles, perform surgeries and run elevators.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated that a third of its military force would be robotic by 2015. Military experts estimate that robotic soldiers will be available in 20 years.

This is only the beginning. Anyone whose job can be replaced by a robot will be gone soon. Low-skilled, low-wage jobs will be first. Middle-level jobs like accountants and bank tellers are already disappearing. Maybe the idea of RoboCop isn’t crazy. Maybe they can do a better job of deciding when to shoot an unarmed citizen.

To a bright future,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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