Will robots cause global unemployment?

    Once the thought of robots firmly entrenched in our lives was breathtaking and promised unthinkable achievements. “Forgotten troubles, running stopped.” We dreamed of a brave new world in which robots are faithful servants, and a person enjoys the fruits of his scientific achievements.

    However, in recent years, the increasing introduction of robots has forced a rethinking of the sign of this phenomenon. “Robots inject, not a man.” And this is precisely the root of a growing large-scale drama. What is man? It doesn’t work and doesn’t earn. More and more voices are heard that the development and cheapening of robots will soon make the work of people in many professions unprofitable. And you can rest assured that businessmen will make an unambiguous choice in favor of robots. This means that many people will have to look for a new job, retrain for other professions, drop in welfare, social tension, increased crime and further down the list.

    Are we really looking forward to such a bleak robotic future? Let's discuss.

    Previously, people had to hunt or collect for the sake of survival. But people were too lazy and smart enough, so they invented tools to facilitate their work. The development of tools made it possible to free the vast majority of the population from direct food production: in 1790, about 90% of the population was occupied with this, in 1900 - about 35%, in 2010 - 2-3%. At the same time, we still live in abundance of food, and about 30% of food produced does not reach the shelves, rot and deteriorate.

    All this is true not only for agriculture. Over the course of several millennia, we have been creating ever new tools to facilitate all types of physical labor. Tools and machines are our mechanical muscles, stronger, more reliable and tireless. The use of all these tools has allowed billions of people to specialize in one thing, which has become the key to economic growth and living standards. Some specialize in programming and engineering, creating artificial intelligence. And just as “mechanical muscles” made physical labor less popular, so artificial minds made human labor less popular. That is the work of our brain.

    We are on the verge of a new economic revolution. And if it seems to you that this has already happened before, then you are mistaken. This time it's different.

    Physical work

    When it comes to automation, many find huge, custom-made, expensive, efficient, but blind to the outside world robots designed to perform only one or several operations.

    However, this is an outdated approach to automation. A few years ago, the Baxter robot appeared, able to independently learn actions that it had not previously performed.

    Unlike specialized industrial robots that require specially trained operators, technicians and cash infusions for their operation, Baxter can simply observe human actions and then repeat them. And its cost is less than the average annual wage of a worker in a developed country. Baxter was one of the first general-purpose robots.

    Here comes a comparison with computers. At the beginning of their history, they were also large, expensive and extremely specialized. But once compact universal computers appeared, and soon they became able to do anything. And thanks to applicability in almost all areas of life and industries, computers do not cease to increase their power and become cheaper.

    Now Baxter can be compared to a universal computer from the 1980s. Even despite its slowness, an hour of its work costs a penny due to its low energy consumption. While its biological competitors need to pay a minimum wage. And even being 10 times slower, it will be more profitable if the cost of its operation is 100 times lower than the wages of the worker. Moreover, he is quite capable of performing many actions that do not require high qualifications.

    There is already an example of how much less advanced robots than Baxter can take the place of man. Some new supermarkets in the USA already use robotic cash registers.

    Another illustration: hundreds of thousands of baristas around the world are now at risk. Of course, a person skillfully prepared coffee cannot be compared with the coffee machine selected on the screen. But most people do not need gourmet delights.

    A very recent example of the offensive of robots and on much more complex professions than making coffee: aviation. No, this is not about the autopilot system, but about full-fledged independent control of the aircraft, from takeoff to landing. Meet PIBOT, it was recently demonstrated at the international conference Intelligent Robots and Systems. This is a slightly modified, very cheap Robotics Bioloid Premium robot.

    As you will see from the video below, he is capable of independently taking off and flying along the route in an airplane simulator using mechanical controls. The landing procedure still requires the help of a person, but the developers claim that they are almost close to solving the problem of self-landing. The robot is guided by the image on the screen using the contour recognition algorithm. The authors of PIBOT say that its capabilities already satisfy a number of requirements prescribed in the flight manual from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

    Soon, the developers promise to publish a video on which the robot is no longer flying a virtual airplane, but a radio-controlled model.


    At the dawn of the 1900s, the active development of motor vehicles began. From the point of view of the horses themselves, this was a great trend: there was no need to languish in hard work in the fields, to lose strength when delivering mail, to carry riders into battle. Today's proponents of the ubiquitous introduction of robots claim that people who are freed from mechanical activities by mechanical assistants will gain new professions that have not even been created. But by the example of the same horses, we know that this is self-deception. How many horses have found new, unprecedented uses over the past 100 years?

    There is no such economic law that new technologies create more new challenges for horses. It’s even awkward to say it out loud. But it is worth replacing “horses” with “people”, as for some reason this phrase for some reason ceases to be absurd. But this is only a denial of the obvious. Just as cars made horses unnecessary at one time, so robots will make people unnecessary. Not immediately and not everywhere, but on a sufficiently large scale and pretty soon. And if we do not prepare, then this will result in enormous problems. Perhaps you now think that robots cannot replace your profession. But technology is getting better, cheaper and more productive. A vivid example are all the same cars.


    Self-driving cars from fiction have already become reality. They are already quite capable of independently navigating the roads. And the question is not whether they will replace ordinary cars, but how soon this will happen. And for this, they do not need to drive perfectly, just be better than living drivers. In the United States alone, about 40,000 people die in car accidents each year, in Russia about 15,000 . Self-driving cars do not fall asleep on the go, do not write SMS, do not drive drunk and are not subject to bouts of driver brainlessness. In fact, they are already better than us.

    In general, calling them “cars” is wrong. It is as if the first cars were called mechanical horses. Perhaps in the future some new term will appear, and the word “car” will be used only in relation to a person-driven vehicle. Now imagine how many drivers of municipal and freight vehicles will lose their jobs due to the introduction of self-driving cars?

    It is not necessary to hope for unity and protection from the trade unions. History knows many examples when representatives of certain professions in every possible way impeded the automation of their work. But technology has always won because it was economically viable. For example, for the same transport companies, the salary fund can reach one third of all expenses. At the same time, truckers must take a break every few hours, and this is time and money. Apart from periodic accidents. And the low accident rate of self-driving cars will instantly attract insurance companies to their side.

    So robotic machines are likely to be the first example of how robots are changing society. Moreover, we will be able to feel this soon enough, already over the next ten years. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, said he would be able to introduce a fully autonomous electric car for 6 years.

    What is it all going to

    Using the Baxter and Google Mobile as an example, one can reflect on how new technologies always destroy the most low-skilled professions. People have to relearn, raise their level. And ahead of us is the big problem of the forced retraining of hundreds of millions of people who have lost their jobs. White-collar workers also cannot consider themselves safe today. Many office workers around the world today can carry out special programs. But software bots are much faster and cheaper than full-fledged robots. In addition, one bot will be able to replace several workers, and the return is higher than when automating low-skilled jobs. This further enhances the potential appeal of bots.

    And here, self-learning ability will be especially useful. Why make a very smart specialized bot for every profession, if you can make a self-learning program? For millions of people, the day will turn black when they create a program that does not need to be taught to do something, but which is enough to show something done correctly, and it will figure out how to come to that.

    Office worker replacement bots

    By the way, the securities market has long been dominated by specialized software. In the vast majority of cases, these are bots that have "learned" to trade on the exchange with other, also self-trained, bots. These programs do not follow people's orders; they decide for themselves whether to sell or buy shares.

    Already there are bots that write texts for the media. Most often for newspapers. There are companies specializing in training bot-journalists. For example, Automated Insights, which helps the Associated Press to implement an automated service that can generate up to 4,400 third-party earnings reports per quarter. According to the representative of the AR, people-journalists during this time create only about 300 articles. At the same time, the good goal of introducing a bot service was announced - freed journalists will be able to concentrate on reporting, analytics, identifying trends and finding exclusive stories.

    “Work with papers, making decisions, writing texts” - many professions fall under these definitions. And specialized bots in the future will be able to replace people in most of these professions. For example, lawyers. For the most part, their work boils down to preparing documents and finding the right information in piles of papers, such as strange transactions or suspicious coincidences. All this is the real work for the bot. And the search for data in many companies has already been assigned to bots. They scan millions of emails, notes, and documents for hours, not weeks. And their advantage lies not only in speed, but also in accuracy.

    Here is a much more complex example. The IBM Watson artificial intelligence program is already coping with diagnostic tasks at the level of medical students. As in the case of self-driving cars, robots do not need to be ideal doctors, it is enough to be better than people in this. And the proportion of erroneous diagnoses in modern medicine is still appalling. In addition, robots will never forget and confuse with the use of drugs, as well as with their mutual influence. Medical bots will be able to exchange experience and knowledge with each other, to keep abreast of the latest research. They will be able to continuously collect and analyze medical statistics about all of their patients. Of course, bots will not be able to replace all doctors, but a number of specializations are completely.

    Bots for replacing creative people

    If your work is related to creativity, then you probably consider yourself “invulnerable” to robots. Perhaps this is only partly true.

    Many people compare the creative process to something magical, but this is still not the case. The brain is a very complex structure, perhaps the most complex in the universe. But this does not stop us from trying to model it.

    And if we manage to do this, then we will create a tool that will make our thinking abilities unnecessary. There is an opinion that having entrusted a boring routine to robots, mankind will unitely engage in creativity in all its manifestations. Alas, hundreds of millions of artists, sculptors, photographers, writers, poets, actors, directors, singers, musicians and other creative personalities do not need anyone. Their real number is already very small. Their incomes depend on popularity and demand, therefore the number of such people in any society is always insignificant. There is no economy based on drawing or writing.

    Returning to the bots - they are already writing music. A bot named Emily Howel can generate a huge amount of content in a day. And with blind testing, few can distinguish “her” works from those written by man. Naturally, now there can be no question of the full-fledged work of artificial intelligence. The task of creating a mechanical mind still seems overwhelming. However, the above example already proves that the idea of ​​algorithms that assemble a finished “product” from some basic components is quite viable. It is possible that in the medium term there will be programs capable of creating quite tolerable pictures. The first steps in this direction have already been taken:

    Although in fiction in the foreseeable future, robots are unlikely to reach any heights. Despite the success in creating newspaper notes, for a conscious and valuable from the point of view of the art of folding words into sentences, you need full-fledged intelligence, albeit artificial. At least I want to hope so.

    Alas, in some areas in the future we will be able to automate the creative process. Let not at the level of creating masterpieces, but within the framework of mass popculture - completely.

    Psychological aspects

    It is unlikely that the introduction of robots will be exclusively imposed by corporations. A recent study by specialists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology yielded unexpected results: human workers more often prefer ... robots rather than humans. As noted by the researchers, the experimental subjects under the supervision of robots worked more efficiently and expressed more satisfaction.

    It is difficult to say why people chose to obey the car. Psychologists will better describe the underlying mechanisms, but several reasons can be suggested. For example, that this is a kind of rest from the need to constantly maintain social contacts. After all, we daily encounter dozens and hundreds of people, and somehow we have to communicate with them, from intersecting views in the subway to close interaction on working issues. It is not surprising that the desire to go on vacation to those places where as few fellow species as possible is found is so popular for many people. The second reason why the robot is “better” than humans is the lack of the need to establish personal relationships, try to please the boss, and tolerate his unpleasant attitude towards himself. Although MIT experts believe
    There is another reason for the possible favor for robots. We are talking about the personification of machines, endowing them with features of people or animals. This is generally characteristic of humans, many of us treat our cars or computers not just as mechanisms, we even give them names. This trend with respect to robots is confirmed by the results of a study conducted among American soldiers using military robots.

    At the household level, we, too, will surely joyfully welcome the entry of robots into our lives, and with pleasure we will begin to shift small tasks and concerns onto them. Delivery of goods, use as a day planner for the whole family and a home information portal (remember all kinds of artificial minds in science fiction films on spaceships, omnipotent, omniscient and communicating in voice). Robots will become familiar and convenient, and even more inconspicuous for us, they will replace us in the labor market.

    A small offtopic. An interesting point of view on our possible robotic future was voiced by Nell Watson, engineer, futurist and CEO of Poikos. True, this is not about unemployment due to the fault of robots, but about the traditional horror story from the series "we all die." According to Watson, the development of artificial intelligence technologies may lead in the future to the creation of a sufficiently developed machine mind, which alone or collegially with its own kind will decide to destroy people from mercy . Or out of pity, if you like it better. Watson proceeds from the thesis that artificial intelligence, originally functioning on the basis of a system of rules, will in the future reach the level of the human mind, which cognizes the world through intuition.

    We will not go into discussions about the problems of creating artificial intelligence and scenarios a la “Terminator”. Of interest is Watson's proposed solution to this hypothetical problem: robots need to instill human values ​​in the first place. She believes that the "understanding" of people by robots will prevent genocide from pity.


    Some readers will still consider that all the scenarios described above are idle fictions. Unfortunately, robots are already among us, and many new ones are being created and rolled in laboratories. Humanity has already passed through various economic revolutions, but the introduction of robots is a completely different thing. They threaten not just specific professions, but almost any. Soon, many of us will suddenly be in place of horses trying in vain to compete with cars.

    In addition to unemployment, one of the possible consequences of the massive introduction of robots in various professional fields may be the gradual loss of knowledge. Having invested all the accumulated knowledge in electronic assistants, making them perfect substitutes, we ourselves will gradually begin to lose scientific staff and professional practitioners. In conditions when robots will do something good for us, and people of the same profession will have to retrain, the continuity of knowledge transfer will simply be violated. The development of sciences will be the destiny of a handful of people who feel their calling.

    It is not necessary to hope for the emergence of many new professions that millions of people can apply to. There are now hundreds of professions, but the contribution of new ones to the economy is small. The vast majority of professional fields, employing about 45% of the US population, have existed for many centuries, and almost all of them can be automated. For comparison, during the Great Depression, the US unemployment rate reached 25%. Of course, this will not happen overnight, or even within a year or five. But this process will expand and intensify.

    Perhaps you have the impression that we are categorically against robots and automation. This is not true. We only urge you not to engage in self-deception in assessing the future, which will give us the mass distribution of robots, both physical and software. We need to think now what to do with the huge masses of the population, who will lose their jobs through no fault of their own. What shall we do in the future, in which for most professions people are not required?

    When writing the post, ideas from the Humans Need Not Apply video were also used.

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