This is the beginning of the end of manual labor for humans
Exactly 30 years ago, a science-fiction movie called ‘Short Circuit’ centers upon the experimental military robot ‘Number 5’ that is struck by lightning and gains a more human-like intelligence, with which the robot embarks to explore the real world.
Well, this film-fiction is coming soon – in one way or the other – to our reality and will affect a lot of us.
In 2015, ‘The Rise of the Robots’ was named business book of the year.
The book reflects the growing anxiety about the possible negative impact of automation on jobs, from manufacturing to professional services. The subtitle of its UK-edition warns of the ‘threat of mass unemployment’ the US-edition sees a ‘jobless future’.
The author of ‘The Rise of the Robots’, Martin Ford, is the founder of a Silicon Valley software development company. He proposes that a fundamental restructuring of our basic economic rules is necessary to mitigate the impact of mass unemployment in the manual labor- and service-sector as a result of the advance of robotics and automation.
Well, I have to admit, when I browsed through the pages of ‘Rise of the Robots’, I was fascinated on one hand about the possibilities and predictions.
On the other hand, I kept thinking while reading, this is all very interesting, but it’s going to take a very long time before robots will really overtake jobs of people in a great number. And would a pizza-delivery company really ’employ’ a robot to deliver a ‘quattro stagioni’? And what would be the reaction of a hungry customer, when a robot rings at the doorbell ?
This week, I started to change my mind. I saw a video by Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics design company, acquired by Google in 2013. The video is both mesmerizing and creepy. The newest version of Atlas, a high mobility, humanoid robot of 175 cm, is shown lifting 10lb (4.5kg) boxes with ease, and resisting a human’s attempt to knock it over.
Atlas is electrically powered and it’s bipedal movements are much closer to a human plus it has sensors in it’s body and legs in order to maintain balance. It is built to navigate across both indoor and outdoor terrain (but see for yourself).
While ‘Number 5’ needed a struck of lightning to come to ‘life’ 30 years ago, this new generation of robots are far more than fiction – it remains to be seen, if that development will be a threat (mass-unemployment) or a blessing for humankind. (Is easy to anticipate that new types of jobs will appear, but will we have enough qualified personnel for them?)
There is hope for the latter. After all, Boston Dynamic’s parent company Google’s purpose is ‘to do good things for the world’ – at least that’s what written in the IPO-documents, when Google went public in 2004..
The ‘Rise of the Robots’ – business book of the year.