The Robot Economy- New Grads Beware

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By Hitesh Patel      

‘If your prospective job involves learning a set of logical rules or a statistical model that you apply to task after task, it is ripe for replacement by a robot.’        

Congratulations! You’ve worked hard for four years, slogging through endless lectures, study groups, tests and, of course, countless embarrassing drunken blowouts, to emerge a victorious new graduate. Your future couldn’t possibly look any brighter, right? Well, the problem is that while you were toiling away the past four years at your studies so that you could land a plum job, so were millions of computer programmers also toiling worldwide. Their work, however, was of a decidedly different nature- making sure the plum entry level jobs that you might have stepped into become automated so that their employers can use that money towards what they deem to be more important ends.

Don’t feel too bad, though. This is the continuation of a trend that began with the first programmable machines and has only gained momentum. While it may seem like cause for despair, it is not. It is a call to adapt. Frank Levy of MIT and Richard Murane of Harvard, a pair of economists who have studied the impact of automation on human employment, describe this next phase as the ‘Grand Restructuring’. Simply put, if your prospective job involves learning a set of logical rules or a statistical model that you apply to task after task, it is ripe for replacement by a robot. As computing power continues to increase and programmers continue to innovate, there are very few occupations that will fall outside of this category. Levy and Murane predict the surviving jobs will be of three kinds: solving unstructured problems, working with new information, and carrying out non-routine manual tasks. It is hard to imagine a robot that could plot corporate strategy, design buildings, fix plumbing problems or style hair for instance.

Sanjiv Singh, a longtime faculty member of the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, provides a viewpoint from inside the robotics field. According to Singh, robotic devices can relieve people of jobs that are dull, dangerous or dirty, whether those jobs are on mind-numbing assembly lines or in unpleasant environments, like clearing land minds or welding on the ocean floor. They can also enhance people’s ability to performs tasks. Yet the worrisome step is when robots go from assisting human workers to making them obsolete.

One view from outside the field comes from someone in the creative arts. Stryker, singer-songwriter with pop rock group Millennium, eschewed a lucrative corporate position long ago to pursue a creative path. ‘We were helping to implement a company-wide software system designed to integrate virtually every department’s function, from product development to inventory management. I came to understand through this experience that the jobs we held (even executive-level ones) could eventually be rationalized down to a complex but definable decision tree and then automated. That raised an interesting philosophical question about the meaning of such work. Music, art, film, literature, or poetry could never be meaningfully automated by machines. I think that says a lot about the uniqueness of those occupations. It also seems plausible that it will be the creative community that charts…Read the full article at: http://whoismillennium.com/press_room/the_robot_economy_new_grads_beware/

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