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How long before robots have taken our jobs?

Tech 2 years ago

Stuart Houghton writer
Stuart Houghton Freelance writer and IT nerd London, UK

So we need to define what we mean by ‘robot’… Designing a mechanical robot that can move its arms or legs or manipulate objects is just an engineering problem. Really, this is a question about artificial intelligence (AI). Knowing what to do with an object or performing the calculations necessary to maintain balance when moving those legs is a problem for computer science and AI research. That’s where it gets interesting.

The kind of general-purpose, intelligent robots from science fiction (we’re looking at you, C-3PO) don’t exist yet but there are some very capable robots and automated systems that excel at narrow tasks. Similarly, artificial intelligence software already tackles specific problems like chess playing or number plate recognition.

Robots have already automated many types of manual labour, particularly on assembly lines. The software that powers robotic machinery is getting better at reacting to small differences and adjusting to fit, enabling robots to tackle jobs that are a little more complex than merely plugging identical parts together. If your job is simple enough that you can describe how to do it in a few steps then the answer to the above question might be ‘not very long, maybe a year or two.’

Jobs that require creativity might be safer. That said, the difficulty of the task doesn’t stop researchers from trying. There are already AI programs that can compose music and even write articles not unlike this one. (Note to editor - please ignore that last bit)

Even with very advanced AI there are many other factors that might decide if a job is to be replaced. Unions, for one, but any job that requires either very complex physical movement or the ability to react to unforeseen circumstances should be able to resist the march of the robots at least for a while longer.

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