What it is: Robots and artificial intelligence are getting more powerful everyday. Here’s why people should and should not be worried about losing their jobs to a machine.
In Zimbabwe, electricity often fails during the day. Because electricity is so unreliable and because it’s so expensive, stores don’t have automatic opening doors like they have in the United States where you step on a pressure-sensitive mat that triggers a motor to open the door for you. Instead in Zimbabwe, they hire people to stand at the door and physically open the door for you. If Zimbabwe’s electrical grid becomes more reliable and electricity becomes cheaper, guess what? It will suddenly be less expensive to replace a human door opener with a mechanical one.
Will someone lose their job to a robot? Yes, but the real question is whether that job is worth keeping in the first place. If your idea of a good job is standing mindlessly at a door, opening and closing it for people, then the problem isn’t robots taking over jobs, but people clinging to jobs that provide no sense of satisfaction, mental challenge, or emotional satisfaction. In other words, if a robot can replace your job, then your job probably isn’t worth having in the first place.
Marine learning and artificial intelligence programs are slowly moving away from replacing trivial tasks like opening doors to replacing more intellectual tasks like investing in the stock market. Once again, if a machine can replace you in your job, your job probably isn’t worth keeping anyway.
In the past, high-priced fund managers would try to pick stocks to maximize returns for a mutual fund. Yet studies have consistently proven that managers have a worse track record of prediction than randomly choosing stocks and that the fees managers skim off a fund’s portfolio rarely is worth the cost of their mistakes. In this case, a well-paid human risks losing their job to a machine but it’s because they’re not doing a very good job in the first place. Fund managers naturally rail against computers taking over their jobs, but if they had only done good job initially, machines would never be able to replace them.
The bottom line is that if a mindless, unthinking machine can replace your job, your job is either not worth keeping or you’re not doing a good job at it anyway.
Many artificial intelligence programs are even creating legal documents to replace lawyers. That’s because most lawyers use boilerplate templates for legal documents and use their staff to do the trivial work for them while they charge outrageous fees. Replace this inefficiency with a machine and you get the exact (or better) service at less cost. Machines aren’t taking jobs away so much as they’re making the world more efficient, and people who get paid to be inefficient are the ones most vocal against robots and computers taking over their jobs.
Foxconn, a company that manufacturs Apple’s iPhone along with products from other companies, recently replaced thousands of workers with robots because robots are more efficient. That means the loss of jobs on an assembly line that treated people like machines anyway. While it’s tragic that people may lose their jobs, it’s equally tragic that people can let their lives waste away doing tedious, mindless work day after day and pretend they’re happy about it. It’s not easy losing a job, but you can look at it as either something to fight against so you can keep getting paid to do a trivial, mindless job and keep collecting a paycheck, or you can see it as an opportunity to get a better, more intellectually challenging and emotionally satisfying job.
The biggest problem is that far too many people don’t want an interesting job because it requires work and thinking, which are two things far too many people avoid at all costs. The best way to avoid being replaced by a machine is to provide a valuable service for others that also intellectually and emotionally satisfies yourself. The ideal job isn’t one where you can work as little as possible and get paid as much as possible (because those types of jobs are ideal candidates for machines to replace). The ideal job is one that you can’t wait to do everyday because it’s fun, and making money is a pleasant side effect.
When you enjoy what you do, you’ll be better at it and you’ll get more customers because people value quality service over indifference. The jobs least likely to be replaced are those that require human relationships to thrive. Sales people can be replaced by a web page like Amazon that sells practically everything, but when you need questions answered and custom service, then no robot can replace a human sales person.
Machines can and will replace some people’s jobs, but for many others, machines will enhance people’s jobs. Today’s personal computers replaced the jobs of rooms full of secretaries who did nothing but type all day long because now we have word processors. Yet few people today would ever want to go back to the days of huge secretarial pools and manual typewriters again because computers and word processors are far more convenient and faster. Word processors give everyone a chance to write a letter correctly without needing to hire a secretary.
Robots and artificial intelligence are job enhancers, not job replacers except for the most trivial cases of inefficiency. If you’re threatened by a machine taking over your job, ask yourself what type of work you’re doing in your job in the first place. Is it a job you enjoy doing? If not, then why are you doing it? If you’re doing it just for the money, then you might as well just call yourself a prostitute. If you’re okay with being a prostitute, then be happy in your job. Otherwise, it’s time to think and work to make a better job (and life) for yourself.
If you’re afraid of robots and machines taking over your job, then let’s keep going back to the good old days when lamp lighters had to physically climb ladders to light street lights every night and photocopying machines didn’t exist because companies hired people to copy documents by hand. If that sounds like the good old days to you, then you can keep going backwards in life as far and fast as possible.
For the rest of us, look forward to the future of machines enhancing our lives and allowing us to pursue more interesting, creative tasks instead of being bogged down by repetitive and trivial tasks. The robots and artificial intelligence are coming, and that’s good news for everyone but the ones who refuse to embrace the inevitable.