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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, 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.
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.”
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.
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? It’s a fascinating development that has a lot of potential to change transportation forever: 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 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, 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, this is nothing less than inevitable.
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.
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