The Rise of the Robots?

The Rise of the Robots?
January 11 13:01 2017 Print This Article

(BBC) – The rise of the robots could be next year’s big story. Ever since the Luddites smashed their first loom, mechanisation has been putting people out of work. But the process is speeding up, accelerating all the time and the next wave could be crashing down, near you, soon.  By 

“Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand a new God will walk.” Dolores in the latest sci-fi TV blockbuster, Westworld.

It may not quite be that bad. But a wall won’t keep them out, a new work permit scheme won’t stop their freedom of movement.

A variety of new technologies, at their heart, advanced robotics and better, faster, brighter computers. Most agree that it is not yet the “general intelligence” which might lead to the (so far fictional) ethical conundrum about machine consciousness.

But increasingly complex machines are now doing more and more jobs which used to require human brains, as well as still replacing brawn power, a subject which we have covered a number of times on The World This Weekend.

3D printers eliminate jobs in both manufacturing and transportation. Driverless cars are around the corner, driverless lorries just behind the next bend. Scary when you consider the claim that “truck driver” is the most common job in many US states.

Indeed, researchers say nearly half of all current jobs in the USA will be automated by 2033. Typists and clerks went long ago. Next may be highly-educated people who work in marketing and medicine, law and, yes, journalism.

Spare a thought for the bankers, too. The president of the Boston bank State Street, Michael Rogers, employs more than 30,000 people. He thinks by 2020 one-in-five of them will be put out of work by an algorithm, according to this article.

Donald Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder, boss of several big fast food companies, is happy with fewer labourers. He’s a big fan of automated customer services “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race-discrimination case.”

If you think you’ve read these predictions before you’re right.

Experts have been talking about the fourth, (or fifth) industrial revolution, the third wave of globalisation and their disruptive technology for several years now.

What is different is the political context. There’s a new question.

What will this new economic jolt mean, coming hard on the heels of the revolt of the Rust Belt, the bellow of the left behinds?

You might have noticed that 2016 was quite a year, here, and in the States. All the signs are it will continue in 2017 in Europe with elections in Germany, France, the Netherlands and probably Italy. Many see it as nothing less than a rising up of the dispossessed.

If there are coherent themes, some of them are about nationalism and identity. But so are economic dislocation and a growing sense of inequality.

One respected economist argues this will get a lot worse. Prof Richard Baldwinpredicts, among other things, that “hotel rooms in London could be cleaned by people driving robots sitting in Kenya or Buenos Aires or wherever, for a tenth of the cost here.”

He has a simple view of people’s political reaction – “Boy, are they going to be angry!”

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