This report is the result of work by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and Boston University economist Pascual Restrepo. They were attempting to quantify the jobs lost due to automation and robotics.
They are not seeing a complete take-over by robots. They do see robots causing a major negative impact on jobs. They looked at the period from 1990 to 2007. They found that for each robot added, on average 3.3 workers were replaced. They also found that each robot caused an average 0.4% decline in wages.
The deployment of robots in the US lags behind Europe. During the period studied about one robot was added in the US for every 1000 workers. In Europe, the rate was 1.6 per 1000 workers. More than 50% of the robots added in the US went into the automotive and electronics industries. The automotive sector was the most affected by robots.
They also found that robots have a direct impact on income inequality. The introduction of robots has caused income to fall for blue-collar workers.
For many years communicating with your computer by thought has been science fiction. Today, that is coming closer to reality. Many significant advances have been made to manipulate prosthetics. Efforts to create a wider brain/machine interface are underway.
One of the major efforts in this area is being made by Neuralink. Elon Musk, among others, founded the company in 2016. Elon Musk has said that humans must become cyborgs if they are to survive in the robot and AI filled future. He has predicted that we must enhance our own intellectual abilities. If we do not, we will become redundant. According to Musk, Neuralink’s first goal is to help people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects.
Musk has said, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” The concept behind that is to integrate communications and computer processing power.
Neuralink is researching a direct link between the brain and computers. It has developed a system to feed thousands of electrical probes into a brain. According to Musk, it hopes to start testing the technology on humans sometime in 2020.
Neuralink has the potential to reshape both computing and humanity. The approach that Neuralink is taking uses a robot to insert tiny leads. Each of these leads is only a fraction of the width of a human hair.
First, sewing machine-like technology drills small holes. Ultra-thin electrodes called threads are inserted. A small chip is connected to a “wisp” of 1,024 threads. Up to 10 chips might be embedded under a user’s skin. Musk has said, “Ultimately, we can do a full brain-machine interfaces where we can achieve a sort of symbiosis with AI.” It might be possible for people to type 40 words per minute by thinking with such an interface.
Neuralink calls their approach a Neural Lace. The Neural Lace provides a technology layer above our brains. The expectation is for Neural Lace to increase our cognitive performance levels. The thought is that the closer we become to AI the less of a threat it will be. Neuralink hopes to have this in a human patient by the end of this year.
The Neuralink electrodes are being designed to both read and write data. The Neural Lace is a device that is intended to grow with your brain. Its major purpose is to optimize mental output.
In the long term, Neuralink sees brain-connected chips and wires placed under the skin. The user would wear a communications pod behind their ear like a hearing aid. The ‘pod’ would then use Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with a phone or computer. The long-term goal is to build a “digital superintelligence layer”. It will provide a high bandwidth interface between the brain and machine intelligence. The distinction between humans and machines may become almost imperceptible.
The challenges to developing this technology are significant. There have been successes in tests with animals. According to Musk, “A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain”. Many labs are researching brain-machine interface (BMI) technology. But some worry that Neuralink’s invasive method is risky.
The development of other non-invasive methods are underway. The hope is for these to not only read brain activity but also stimulate it. Using one of these technologies humans may someday be able to define what we want to become. It seems clear that humans are on a path to a more symbiotic relationship with our machines.
This is part of transhumanism. That is the enhancement of humans through the use of technology. At the low-end many of us have already taken a step along the transhumanism path. By wearing eyeglasses or a hearing aid we have augmented our bodies with technology. Other augmentations might enable us to ‘see’ wavelengths of light outside the usual visual spectrum. They might also include methods to accelerate the pace of learning. We might someday rapidly learn new skills or gain a better memory. Further Reading
Those jobs most susceptible were “insurance underwriters, telemarketers, tax preparers and sports officials“. Automation is least likely to affect jobs “requiring creative and social intelligence“. These would be “recreational therapists, mechanic and repair supervisors, and emergency management directors“. Other professions likey to avoid replacement are “dentists, dietitians, and elementary school teachers“. There will be some short-term impact but after worker skills adapt to the technology they do well. British economic historian Robert Allen calls this the “Engel’s Pause”.
Since then Frey has published the book “The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation”. In that book, he addresses the 47% claim in detail. Part of his explanation is that just because 47% can be replaced, there is no expectation that they will.
Historically the introduction of new technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. The long term employment picture should be fine. Frey does make a couple of suggestions. Companies should provide some sort of wage insurance. Governments should also take financial measures.
Schools and universities must plan for the future. They need to prepare their students with the necessary technical knowledge. Frey suggests that worker’s attitudes will dictate how much automation will impact us.
See my other Robot related posts) – Robots keep showing up in our workplaces. One of those that have made appearances is the Ava Robotics telepresence robot. Ava is a spinoff of iRobot in 2016. They are being used in the corporate world and for hospitality applications.
It is easy for a user to safely navigate the Ava Telepresence robot. The remote environment can be a workspace, an event space, or a retail space. The Ava unit provides HD video up to 1080p along with full-fidelity audio. The user controls the Ava via an iPad, iPhone, or computer web browser. The Ava units are fully autonomous and use depth cameras and lidar to navigate on their own.
Now the Ava is being tried in the hospital. In the COVID-19 environment we are in, the telepresence robots are even more important. They allow quarantined medical staff to visit patients and assist at hospitals. The Ava also allows staff to enter patient rooms without exposing themselves. The robot relies upon a HIPAA compliant communication system to ensure patient privacy.
Use of the Ava is also saving on protective gear. Usually every time a medical staff member enters the room of a COVID patient, they must ‘suit up’. When they leave the room, they must take off all their protective gear and disposed of it. Hospital staff can go through a lot of protective equipment in a day. With the Ava, staff can make a virtual visit to patients. Then the robot is cleaned and disinfected. It can be sterilized like other hospital equipment.
(See my other Robot related posts) – Automation continues to advance in spite of the coronavirus. The California DMV has issued the company Nuro with a permit for testing. Nuro will be testing its completely self-driving Nuro R2 vehicle. Only specific parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are part of the limited test.
Nuro was founded in 2016. Their purpose:
to harness the power of robotics and artificial intelligence to solve new challenges at a global scale
This is not the first use of Nuro delivery robots. The company already has an agreement in place with Kroger groceries. The robot is delivering in selected areas (77005, 77007, 77025, 77035, 77096, and 77401 zip codes) of Houston already. Order items through the App and the Nuro robot will appear at your curb. The delivery costs only $5.95. See the Nuro website for details.
Unfortunately, California testing will not begin until the state gives final approval. That will likely be after the coronavirus threat has ended.
Starship Technologies says its autonomous food delivery service has expanded.
Alphabet’s drone subsidiary, Wing, is dropping off packages in Virginia
Amazon is testing its Scout delivery robot
Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) are currently doing 8,000+ hours of cleaning work a day
Businesses short of workers are supplementing their workforce with robots. Typical of those robots being used to clean store floors is the Tennant T7AMR Rider-Scrubber.
These and similar commercial autonomous robots can be used to scrub & vacuum floors, make deliveries, scan the product shelves, and assist with security. The machines can typically navigate dynamic public spaces autonomously, avoid obstacles, and the general public. They also can manage data, generate reports, and interact with human users. The COVID-19 crisis is definitely going to accelerate the adoption of robots.
Contrary to what you might expect, the impact of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 may be an increase in automation. A report looking at the three recessions in the last 30 years shows that 88% of job loss took place in “routine,” automatable occupations. We have already seen robots replace workers at places such as Amazon and Walmart. Their deployment is expected to significantly increase during any recession. [See Further Reading #2]
I came across two articles on SingularityHub a few days ago. I thought that these were particularly interesting given our current situation.
In ‘Robots to the Rescue’ the main points are:
social distancing is in wide use, but it’s also bringing many jobs to a standstill
key areas where robots could help are clinical care, logistics, and reconnaissance
outside of medicine, robots could help keep the economy by replacing humans in industry
robots have already been deployed to disinfect hospitals and public spaces
automation of test sample collection and analysis
Some of the points in ‘Coronavirus May Mean Automation’ include:
as of late 2019 Amazon employed around 650,000 humans and 200,000 robots—and costs have gone down as robots have gone up
‘shelter-in-place’ creating the biggest remote-work experiment in US history
more automation will help us stay healthy during times like the present, it will drive down the cost of goods and services, and it will grow our GDP in the long run
Robots and automation are filling the voids that the spread of COVID-19 has created. The longer this continues, the more automation that will slip into place. Even after COVID-19 has become history, much of the automation will remain in place. Companies and universities will continue their research. Automation and robots will be part of their contingency plans for the next emergency.
The Economist this week laid out just how quickly automation is taking over finance. Funds run by computers that follow human-set rules account for…
35% of the U.S. stock market
60% of institutional equity assets
60% of trading activity
Last month, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds automatically tracking stock and bond indices hit $4.3 trillion invested in American equities, surpassing the sum run by humans for the first time.
Too often we think of automation just affecting manufacturing jobs. It will affect many other sectors. This trend is inevitable in a worldwide economy. Industries have to stay economically competitive and automation will be essential to compete. Those who want to succeed in the workforce will need the right skills.
What skills are needed for the years ahead? (also from the “Morning Brew”)
(See my other Robot related posts) – Ford Motors announced today that it will begin testing its self-driving autos in Austin. Austin will be one of three (Washington, D.C., and Miami are the other two) locations where their cars will be tested.
(See my other Robot related posts) – Boston Dynamics released another video showing more skills, this time more into the gymnastic variety. Per the Boston Dynamics’ website, Atlas is comprised of the world’s most compact hydraulic systems including custom motors, valves and a hydraulic power unit that drive its 28 hydraulic joints. The robot stands 1.5 meters tall (4.9 feet), weighs 80kg (176lbs) and moves at 1.5 meters per second (3.35mph).
The robots have come a long way since the DARPA contest a few years ago where many were falling when simply trying to walk.