The Shifting Tide of Employment – Follow Up

Hey there readers! Sorry for the lateness of this post. I just wanted to get a bit more work done on Axtara: Banking and Finance before I had a work shift tonight. But speaking of work, remember that post I made about two weeks ago about how employment as we know it is soon going to shift completely as increasing automation quickly overtakes everything? The one where I pointed out it’s already happening and only accelerating, and we need to figure out how we’re going to adapt to it?

If you don’t, or haven’t read it, than you really should. Not just because it’ll give some needed context to this post, but because it may bring to light some things you didn’t know or realize and should probably be thinking about. It was called The Shifting Tide of Employment – The Sci-Fi Future is Already Here. It produced a lot of talk in comments here and on other sites where it was linked, because most people don’t realize how swiftly this change is moving. It’s not “when will it come” because it’s already here. Which is kind of the point of the post, along with a note that in my personal opinion, as a culture and a society we are not prepared in the slightest for the magnitude of change this will bring.

And then yesterday, things shifted again. In my first post, or at least in one of the comments, I compared the coming of automation to be an avalanche that’s already started. We can’t stop it, but we need to figure out how we’re going to weather it. It can be a good thing, or a bad thing, but we need to make those decision now, not later. A video someone mentioned in the comments (and I’ll link it again in this post for good measure) compares us to horses looking at the car and wondering if it’ll ever replace us.

Yes. The answer is yes. And this week, we moved a step closer. Take a look at this video from Boston Dynamics:

Did you watch it? If not, pause here and go watch it. Otherwise there’s not nearly as much point to the rest of this post.

This is a robot. A working-robot that can be purchased (for a couple tens of thousands of dollars, but with some variance as it depends on how many you want to order) and then customized to carry out a variety of tasks. It can open doors. Lift and carry things. Take readings. Boston Dynamics have already stated in their sales page and in their releases that they’ve already soft-launched it with construction companies and oil/gas companies, and there are pictures of Spot-bots running around doing work.

Work. That’s right, it’s an semi-autonomous robot that can be programmed to do a number of tasks. And move around a human environment. Boston Dynamics is excited to see what jobs people give these bots, but off of the top of my head, here are a few I immediately thought of:

  • Waiter: It’s a bot that can deliver food to tables, clear plates, etc. Busboy and food delivery in one. If you want a human supervisor to interact with customers you can have it, but you really don’t even need that.
  • Stockboy: Forget late-night jobs putting cans on shelves. A couple of spots will do that for you. And cost less in the long run.
  • Mail jobs: Yeah, with that arm, spot could conceivably do this. Sorting and delivering inter-office mail isn’t a job at a lot of places anymore with e-mail, but at the ones where it is, Spot could do it with the right attachment and code.
  • Gopher: No need to send an apprentice to get more nails or tools. Spot can do it! Combine it with that robot that does drywall and sheetrock in Japan and you’ve cut two humans out!
  • Security Patrols: Spot can do this all day, and free up people!

That’s just the byproduct of me thinking for a few minutes. Now, this doesn’t mean that Spot will take those jobs tomorrow. There’s not that many of them. And no one’s built the code for that yet.

YET. And that’s the catch. The potential is there already, and Spot is 95% of the way there already. Boston Dynamics is already working on the next generation of Spot for wider commercial application. And then there’s their other projects, like this one:

can’t even do some of those stunts. That’s a robot doing handstands and springing forward flips and rolls. It’s not CG or a fake. That’s the real deal.

Now imagine that robot stepping out of a self-driving garbage truck and cheerfully greeting you with a polite message as it collects your garbage can.

Impossible? Science-Fiction? No, that’s Science FACT. This will happen. Garbagemen are expensive because the job is hazardous. A robot doesn’t care about toxic chemicals or disease. It’ll just take a quick shower and be on its way. And garbage collection is the perfect repetitive job to automate.

Again, if you’re not thinking about this, you should be. The change has already started (see the first post I made on this topic, talking about robot bus drivers and self-driving shipping trucks). This change is fast-sweeping and will only get faster. It’s coming, for good or bad.

I just hope we figure out how to best make it for good.

If you want to know more about spot, I recommend watching this video by The Verge, where they play with one for a while and talk about what it can do.

Until then, here’s a video another commentator left on the original post, which reaches a similar conclusion, but alarmingly enough with entirely different sources to my own, showing how wide-spread this issue has already become without us realizing it.

Look, I’m not trying to scare you. Well, maybe a little. If you’re not thinking about this and wondering “What will my country do to keep this from ruining everyone who relies on work?” then yes, I’m trying to draw attention to it. It’s here. Let’s figure it out and work toward a good result now, so that we’re not buried under the avalanche that cannot and will not stop.

Let’s figure out the good result.

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