More Robots Enter the Workforce Each Year
The Robots are Coming quite literally
I’m pretty interested in covering the Future of work, and while the AI-human hybrid workforce manifests, during the Great Automation, it’s also clear more robots are entering the workforce. So this Newsletter will also cover robotics and the A.I. advances behind them on occasion.
This is just a quick Op-Ed on the topic.
Automation in retail, logistics, transportation, the food industry, the hotel industry , the security industry and the cleaning industry won’t create more jobs. However some organizations like the World Economic Forum claim or predicts that automation will result in a net increase of 58 million jobs.
The Great Resignation Stimulated Robot Adoption
Economists predicted when the pandemic started that any coronavirus-related recession would likely to bring about a spike in labor-replacing automation. However many firms that adopted robots during the pandemic, noted that they could also hire more employees with the growths in productivity that the robots entailed.
However the transition does not come without challenges, especially for the workers most likely to see their skills become obsolete. From cashiers to truckers it’s clear the robot revolution at scale, will make a lot of people happy and potentially disrupt their livelihood.
Robot Adoption in the 2020s
US companies ordered more robots than ever before in the first nine months of 2021, as they struggled to recruit staff.
The Great resignation, early retirements and labor supply-demand shortages also have accelerated robot adoption. Robotics development has long prompted concerns that machines will take jobs from humans, but, in the US, robot orders have hit an all-time high as many companies struggle to recruit staff.
A period of human-robot collaboration takes places before robots get smart enough to be more efficient than people at many repetitive jobs. Think retail sales people, restaurant waiters, baristas, construction workers, military infantry, security guards, or warehouse workers.
New Kinds of Robots are Emerging
With autonomous vehicle technology improving, new kinds of robots are also emerging like robot-taxis or this flying helicopter by DARPA.
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In February, 2022 trials of a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter took flight for the first time without anyone on board. , the helicopter successfully completed 30 minutes of autonomous flight, according to a press release from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). You know, the US Department of Defense’s research arm.
The 2020s are a great time for drones and the development of military robots. Sidewalk delivery robots also become more common.
These test flights are part of DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, which aims to put “removable kits” into existing military aircrafts to “promote the addition of high-level automation.”
Automation in the military will get incredible good incredibly fast. Black Hawk helicopters serve a variety of purposes: reconnaissance, evacuation, special ops, search and rescue, and… combat assault. You can sort of see where this is going.
Even in the military an AI-human hybrid system is being put in place. “With reduced workloads pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics,” DARPA Tactical Technology Office Program Manager Stuart Young said in a statement.
Further reading: Gizmodo: https://gizmodo.com/darpa-successfully-tests-an-unmanned-autonomous-blackha-1848502521
Robot Ratios in Manufacturing Sector Continue to Climb
Globally there are now 113 installed industrial robots per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing sector, an increase from 74 just four years ago. (as of 2019).
South Korea leads the way in their use of robots, with 855 installed per 10,000 employees.
Robot density, a metric used by the IFR, measures the number of robots per 10,000 workers in an industry. From 2015 to 2020, robot density nearly doubled worldwide, jumping from 66 units in 2015 to 126 units in 2020. In 2020 alone, robot density globally jumped from 113 units in 2019 to 126 units.
In the 2020s we can expect this to rapidly change as adoption speeds up.
The countries with the most automation in manufacturing industries in 2020. | Credit: International Federation of Robotics
Countries that lead in robot adoption of this category include:
China is eager to expand its level of automation in the coming years and it has been targeting a place in the world's top-10 nations for robot density by 2020. It did end up achieving this, ranking 9th tied with Denmark.
Robots Dogs on the U.S. Mexico Border
As if the border isn’t surveilled and militarized enough, the Department of Homeland Security wants to go full Black Mirror, reports the Guardian.
The military, technological, security and political classes in this country appear united in their desire to make robot dogs part of our future, and we soon as any of us spotted Boston Dynamics, we knew this was coming.
The latest example came on 1 February, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release titled “Robot Dogs Take Another Step Towards Deployment at the Border”.
A picture of the “four-legged ground drone” accompanied the release, and the “Automated Ground Surveillance Vehicle”, as it’s called is really as if manifested from a Black Mirror episode of just a few years ago.
Dog meet robot dog. We’ve also seen the Chinese have cloned military robots like these for general use.
These particular robot dogs are made by Ghost Robotics, which claims that its 100lb machine was “bred” to scale “all types of natural terrain including sand, rocks and hills, as well as human-built environments, like stairs”. Each robot dog is outfitted with a bevy of sensors and able to transmit real-time video and information feeds. The devices are not yet in operation on the US-Mexico border, but a testing and evaluation program is under way in El Paso, Texas.
You can check out the website of Ghost Robotics here.
The surveillance drones really are coming and they will be used in security and law enforcement as well.
The Guardian is fair to point out that the U.S. actually invites an era of killer robots when it notes that incidentally, US policy not only does not “prohibit the development or employment” of killer robots (officially known as “lethal autonomous weapon systems,” or Laws) but also opposes any international preemptive ban.
Delivery Robots on the Sidewalk
It’s also clear that robo-taxis and delivery robots will take a lot of those Gig-economy jobs that were just recently created that mostly exploit human workers.
There are dozens of such pilots with robots like these. For example, Serve Robotics, an Uber spinout that builds sidewalk delivery robots, is deploying its next generation of robots that are capable of completing some commercial deliveries without a human in the loop, according to the startup.
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There are also automated coffee shops where the Barista has been complete automated and even fast-serve restaurants like this as well.
Social Robots for Seniors
Another kind of robot being developed are robots in the smart home that can do basic tasks and even provide mental health and healthcare support for Seniors. The rational here is that 'the robots are a tool that will help us increase engagement with seniors and as many of the speakers here have addressed the issue of social isolation for seniors'.
Here they tend to take a more cute and not a utilitarian form.
The Japanese government has been funding development of elder care robots to help fill a projected shortfall of 380,000 specialized workers by 2025.
It’s very easy for a population to be led to accept robots as good and helpful in society. Allowing robots to help care for the elderly - a job typically seen as requiring a human touch - may be a jarring idea in the West. But many Japanese see them positively, largely because they are depicted in popular media as friendly and helpful.
By 2050 almost one-in-four humans will be aged 60 years and older, double today’s share. Moreover, the number of people aged 80 years and older will quadruple. The AI in elder care market is expected to exceed US$5.5 billion by 2022, and will grow into one of AI’s most important support roles in societies of the future. This will require a lot of smart tech in the home to get done.
Ambulation assistants (robots to help you move)
Remote home monitoring
Telehealth subscription programs
Personalized smart assistants (aware of your medical data and patient care strategy )
As a society at large we’re also going to have to start asking some bigger questions about the impact of all of this A.I. ambient computing and smarter robots that are coming.
Just as it’s not clear what the internet is doing to young people, socialization and soft skills, it’s not clear what algorithms, robots and A.I. at scale is doing to our mental health, free choice and empowerment in society. It could be the net result will be positive mostly.
Robots in Food Industry
From robots burger flippers to self-serve kiosks it’s clear the Food industry is about to be disrupted by robots.
You can count burger-flipping robots as one pandemic innovation that’s here to stay. White Castle announced today that it will be bringing Flippy 2, a robot chef that can essentially perform the same tasks as a team of fry cooks, to 100 more locations this year.
From Cloud Kitchens with takeout to robot waiters it’s also clear how Restaurants look in a few years time could be and feel very different for the consumer and those pesky Millennials who never learned how to cook.
The Robots Are Coming
What I call the Great Automation begins around 2026 and lasts until about 2053 and is a rapid time in the automation of jobs and the increasing sophistication of A.I. in our workplace including of course robots that get better each year at their job and increasingly replace people in most repetitive tasks. This refers to the peak period of transformative automation during the 21st century.
What we are seeing in 2022 is the start of the advent of the acceleration of an age of Robots and Automation. The day when drone delivery is normal and robots are everywhere is not many years or decades away now.
BigTech is of course saying that A.I. is good and robots are mostly for our own good. We also know how this story ends.
In 2019, Economists analyzed long-term trends around the uptake of automation in the workplace, noting that the number of robots in use worldwide increased threefold over the past two decades to 2.25 million.
While researchers predicted the rise of robots will bring about benefits in terms of productivity and economic growth, they also acknowledged the drawbacks that were expected to arise simultaneously. We can conservatively say 20 million jobs will be lost by 2030 from robots.
In countries where the population is rapidly getting more educated, adoption or robots will be even faster. In 2019, the same study from Oxford Economics, said within the next 11 years there could be 14 million robots put to work in China alone. I think you get the idea of where this is heading.
From companion robots to grunt robots performing specialized tasks, we’re going to have to learn to live with them. We know that with robo-taxis along the loss of jobs will be staggering. As a result of robotization, tens of millions of jobs will be lost, especially in poorer local economies that rely on lower-skilled workers.
Walmart Shelf Inventory & Stacking Robots
Walmart was going to use robots for inventory management, shelf supply and cleaning but Walmart ended its contract with Bossa Nova Robotics, which provided the retailer with robots that scanned shelves for inventory.
When major employers like Walmart, Amazon or Costco begin to use robots more, obviously the impacts on labor will be immense. Inventory scanning and cleaning robots are sort of inevitable.
We are in denial if we think robots won’t become ubiquitous in just a few years in most cities around the world. From robo-taxis to delivery drones to delivery robots, to dog walking robots, they will literally be everywhere.
This is not even including the smart robots that will be companions in the home and become very sophisticated at harvesting our health data, mental health data and so forth.
To witness how good warehouse robots or logistics robots have become in just a few short years is to realize that more jobs in warehouses and manufacturing will be automated. Whether it’s on the street or under the hood, robots are just more productive and cheaper than people. They will also improve incrementally each decade to degrees that outmatches any skilled worker. It’s all pretty intuitive.
While adoption of robots in many industries has been slow, once mass adoption accelerates, it will accelerate very quickly and surprise a lot of people. I’ve spoken to truckers who think automation in their sector is a pipe dream. I’ve spoken to retail workers who aren’t sure what they would do if they didn’t have that kind of a job. Clearly a lot of cashiers, construction workers, factory workers and other roles most vulnerable to disruption are among our most vulnerable members of society.
Virtual A.I. Robots are Coming at Scale
Finally there will be new kinds or robots more resembling A.I. Robot writers from the future iteration of GPT-4 are such an example. Here in healthcare, law, education, administration and government we have automation of white collar workers as well, and more automation of the tasks they do. The same can be said for RPA, no-code platforms and so forth.
We can also anticipate new varieties of robots not yet implemented but still in a process of R&D. Eventually A.I. will also themselves engineer new kinds of robots to fulfil certain kinds of roles, for example when there is a major labor shortage such as in cybersecurity. New kinds of A.I.s need to be developed to address this vulnerability to our infrastructure at scale.
A.I. is the Grandmother of Robots
Much of the Metaverse for instance will require facilitation by A.I. and various bots. We can speculate that further adoption of A.I. also makes more kinds or robots possible and more probable. Global consumers will quickly end up interacting with more robots per day than actual people.
The metaphor here is that adoption of A.I. and robotics (among other things) converges and runs simultaneously into the Great Automation.
When A.I. invents and fabricates robots by itself we’ll live in a very different world.
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