Future Tech

Why Replacing Humans With These Robots Makes Sense

Joel Lee 31-12-2014

Robots are taking over the world. It’s a concept that’s both exciting and frightening to think about.


In the past, we’ve explored jobs that robots can’t steal from humans 6 Human Jobs That Computers Will Never Replace Read More , but what about the other side of the spectrum? Are there any jobs where automation and precision are so valuable that robots are actually more deserving of them than humans?

Of course. Some of these jobs are obviously perfect for robots: assembly line production, batch calculation, data processing, even checkout cashiers. But there are a few job markets where replacement of humans with robots is not such an obvious move, but does make a lot of sense if you think about it.

Not convinced that robots will ever be more than gimmicks? Check out these must-see revolutionary humanoid machines 5 Advanced Humanoid Robots You Have to See to Believe Here, we count down some of the most impressive humanoid robots ever created. The future of robotics is coming, and it's weirder than ever. Read More .

Retail Sales Associates

Not even a month ago, an American home improvement chain named Lowe’s employed their first robot at one of their stores in San Jose, California. Its name is OSHbot, stands five-feet tall, speaks both English and Spanish, interacts with customers, and is always available on the floor for help.

“It’s not just robots for robots’ sake, or a marketing gimmick,” insists Kyl Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

The key to a robot-to-human interface is that it is embodied, suggests Philip Solis, a robotics expert at ABI Research. “You’re moving towards something you can interact with more – you can ask it information, and it can respond to you.”

OSHbot costs roughly $150,000 (£95,319, €120,200), Mr. Solis estimates, though this unit cost would decrease as the market matures.

HT: BBC News

OSHbot has constant access to the store’s full inventory and always knows what’s in stock, what isn’t, and where to find everything. It’s also equipped with a 3D scanner that can identify screws, hinges, etc. — a useful feature when customers need more of certain item but don’t know what it’s called.


No human sales associate knows the exact state of a store’s inventory off the top of their head. Not only does OSHbot know, but it can deliver that information at near-instant speeds. This perpetual access to databases has implications for future features as well.

For example, services like Next Glass and Pandora can already make personalized recommendations for users based on their current tastes. As long as the right databases are maintained, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see robots like OSHbot making recommendations to users on the fly.

At that point, human sales associates would have no advantage over their machine counterparts.

Data Research & Analysis

While we’re on the topic of database access, let’s talk about Watson and Ross.


In 2005, IBM began developing an artificially intelligent computer named Watson that took in and processed over 4 terabytes of encyclopedic knowledge. In 2011, Watson appeared on Jeopardy and won, beating out two legendary former winners.

A group of students at the University of Toronto then took Watson and tuned it for a different field: rather than feeding it a mass of general trivia, they sourced it with legal documents, court cases, and statutes of law. This clone of Watson is named Ross and will be used as a legal researcher for a Toronto law firm within the next few years.

Here’s how Ross’s creators say it works: You ask it a legal question, and it spits out an answer, citing a legal case, providing some relevant readings and a percentage number indicating how confident Ross is he got it right. If a new case that might be relevant to your question comes into the database, Ross knows right away and alerts you on your smartphone, perhaps as you are heading to court.

“When we are short of time, we just say it is Siri for lawyers,” says Ross team software engineer Jimoh Ovbiagele, 21, referring to the Apple iPhone’s talking concierge program. He adds that “Watson is a lot smarter than Siri.”

HT: The Globe and Mail

Synthesis of conclusions from a pool of data has long been an activity only for humans, but Watson and Ross are proving that this may not be the case for much longer.

Bank Tellers

Last year, Bank of America began installing next-generation ATMs that can connect customers with live tellers through a video screen. On top of regular ATM actions, these live tellers can perform most of the operations of a traditional bank teller, such as check deposits.


These are convenient for customers, but bank tellers aren’t too happy about them:

Shalom, 20, argues that the machines threaten teller jobs in favor of cheaper labor at call centers in Delaware or Jacksonville, Fla.

“Part of my job is building strong relationships and being able to recommend quality products,” Shalom told ABCNews.com. “I don’t think you can do that through a video screen when you’re never going to know the customer and the customer will never know you.”

Tara Burke, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, denies that the ATMs with video tellers are going to eradicate the classic teller. “We are not planning to replace tellers. We’re not cutting jobs,” Burke said.

HT: ABC News

It’s uncertain whether these video ATMs will indeed obsolete the role of a traditional bank teller, but even if they don’t, there’s another threat on the horizon. What if all tellers were replaced by physical robots?

Like the aforementioned OSHbot, these robotic tellers would have instant access to databases and accounts, allowing for faster service and less chances for error. Robots are also trustworthy because they have no innate inclination to steal or deceive (which can’t be said about humans).

And what about the classic scenario of a bank robbery? Robots have no innate fear of death, which means they cannot be coerced by armed thieves into giving up money. In this case, it’s precisely because robots aren’t human that make them better candidates for the job.


Taxis & On-Demand Transportation

Have you heard about Google’s self-driving car How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Transportation Forever As we move into 2015, the question is no longer whether self-driving cars will replace manually driven cars, but how quickly they'll take over. Read More ? It’s a fascinating development that has a lot of potential to change transportation forever Autonomous Cars: Are Robots Good for the Environment? The way we use cars is going to change.  Those changes will be wide-ranging, but one area that hasn't been investigated in as much detail: the impact on the environment. Read More : fewer accidents, faster commute times, less environmental impact, and it frees you up to do something else while the car drives itself.

But a self-driving car isn’t much to celebrate on its own. What’s interesting is how these cars will impact society on a larger scale. For example, consider what city life would be like if nobody owned a personal car and all vehicles on the road were akin to self-driving taxis.

Right now, it seems as if services like Uber What Is Uber and Why Is It Threatening Traditional Taxi Services? Uber has landed, and it's fundamentally changing inner-city transit. And some might say, not entirely for the better. Read More have made the concept of a taxi outdated, but if Google keeps pushing the limits and pursues the idea of a self-driving taxi, transportation as a whole could be forever changed for the better.

When a taxi pulls up to the curb the first question is, “Where are you going?” When Google launches a fleet of self-driving cars in your town, if it’s tied to Google Now it won’t have to ask. It’ll know you have to be at work in 30 minutes. It’ll know that on Sunday afternoons you head to the market for groceries. And it’ll know that you’re heading to karaoke for Susan’s birthday on Saturday. It’ll know where to go without you searching your phone for an address.

And like all things Google, it’ll learn. The cars could potentially find patterns among customers that use the service all the time. The cars could congregate near users during peak periods. Suddenly, waiting seven minutes for Uber or Lyft will be ludicrous. The Google Self-Driving Car will be there in half the time because it already knows you’ll want a ride. Not just you, it’ll know when everyone wants a ride. It’ll know where to be at all times. Because every time you use Google anything, it’ll learn and that information could seep into your rides.

HT: The Next Web

This kind of “automobile hivemind” is the real life force of the self-driving car. When cars begin talking to each other How Cars Will One Day Talk to Each Other Tomorrow's transportation is not just about the self-driving car. The future will see networks of cars working together to keep passengers safe and deliver them to their destinations efficiently. Read More , that’s when we’ll see a massive change in everyday life as we know it — and as society trends towards an Internet of Things What Is the Internet of Things? What is the Internet of Things? Here's everything you need to know about it, why it's so exciting, and some of the risks. Read More , this is nothing less than inevitable.

Final Thoughts

The field of robotics is still in its infancy. Who knows how the future will look? Many of our assumptions may be flat out wrong, such as the possibility of robots being soft and inflatable instead of being forged of chrome.

And if you think robots have little use apart from rote work, you may be surprised by artificial creativity It's Happening: Robots May Be The Creative Artists Of The Future No machine or piece of software can emulate the passion of an artist, right? Wrong, sort of. Human creativity is important, but — sorry guys — the robots are coming for you too. Read More .

How long before all human jobs are taken over by robots? Can it be beneficial for some jobs to be given over voluntarily to robots? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Image Credits: Robot works Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics.

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  1. Elvin
    January 13, 2015 at 1:55 am

    You guys want to glorify robots, and tell me the person who wrote this article I wonder how he would feel if a robot replaces him.

    • Joel Lee
      January 18, 2015 at 12:18 am

      Robots are an inevitable reality and humans are insanely adaptable to their circumstances. I don't know what the future holds but we managed to survive various technological revolutions of the past and I'm sure we'll make it through the age of the robot as well.

  2. Alterna thunderfox
    January 5, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Ever heard of Mega Man? If robots took over, why, Dr. Wily would have a heyday! Blasphemous. I hear now they've already left their marks on robocalling, now we have Internet bots! Reminds me too much of Dr. Wily, in fact, so much, that we now have spambots! Ahhh!!! Where' s a NetNavi when you need one?

  3. dragonmouth
    December 31, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    All this talk about robots/AI taking over more and more human jobs and tasks is based on the baseless assumption that robots/AI will become smart enough to replace humans but dumb enough to continue obeying them. Unless Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics become the basis for the programming of ALL robotic brains, there is absolutely no guarantee that robots will continue to serve humans.

    What if robots get so advanced that they can replicate and program themselves? What if they get so advanced theat they replace humans at ALL jobs? What if then they decide that humans have no purpose, are superfluous and , in the name of efficiency, eliminate humans altogether?

    "In 2011, Watson appeared on Jeopardy and won, beating out two legendary former winners.
    Here’s how Ross’s creators say it works: You ask it a legal question, and it spits out an answer"
    That does not prove that Watson or Ross is intelligent. It just proves that they can retrieve data at a super-high speed. Can Ross argue an original case?

    "Bank of America began installing next-generation ATMs that can connect customers with live tellers through a video screen."
    Seems inefficient and redundant since a customer can walk into a branch and interact with a teller face to face without the ATM as an intermediary. Unless, of course, BAC is looking to eliminate physical branches and centralize all function at one location. Which I would not put past them or any other bank.

    • Doc
      January 1, 2015 at 12:05 am

      Asimov's Three Laws only apply if an AI becomes self-aware; robots that are forced by their programming to do only certain things, rather than making judgments on their own, will never be a threat to humans any more than a dishwasher or construction machinery would: they do what they are instructed to do by their programming (or what they automatically do mechanically).
      Industrial robots (such as welding machines or assembly line robots) have already caused worker injury and death, but they're not rampaging across the country with AK-47s like the "Terminator" movies, and they're not capable of disobeying human orders or retaliating against their masters.
      Assuming that AIs will take up arms against their creators is like assuming that an army of grasshoppers will suddenly rise up and start murdering humans; we're decades, if not centuries, away from creating an actual **self-aware** or **sentient** AI, despite what Steven Hawking or Elon Musk have to say about the matter. Both are talking outside their fields of expertise, and stirring up FUD about something that won't happen in their lifetimes, which means they can't possibly be proven right or wrong while they're alive.

    • dragonmouth
      January 1, 2015 at 12:39 am

      As long as our robots are nothing more than glorified Jacquard looms, the Three Laws of Robotics will not apply. However, as soon as the robots acquire the need for independent decision making capabilities, these laws will have to come into play.

      "Both are talking outside their fields of expertise"
      If I may ask, what is your field of expertise that you are criticizing the opinions of Hawking and Musk?

      Are only those with the expertise in a particular field allowed to have an opinion on the matter? Because if that is true then most of the comments posted after MUO articles nothing but baseless drivel. In fact, the laws of robotics as well as most of Asimov's 500 eclectic books should not have been created because his expertise was only in the field of biochemistry.

    • Doc
      January 2, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      "Are only those with the expertise in a particular field allowed to have an opinion on the matter?" No, but only those with expertise in a particular field should imply they have an *expert* opinion on the matter.

    • Dmitry
      January 10, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Much more pressing question is: what will 'replaced' humans do? As aside everdwindling 'elite' groups of Creators, Servitors and Owners there'll be no 'logical need' for rest of (jobless thus 'non-earning') population to exist in capitalist paradigm.
      Similar events were responsible for word 'Luddite'...