Printed: 2019-01-21

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





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Jobs, humans, and machines: Implications for society

Dick Pelletier


Ethical Technology


http://ieet.org/index.php/ieet/ieetblog

April 16, 2013

Short term; displaced workers learn new skills. Long term; work-free future evolves. From assembly line robots to ATMs and self-checkout terminals, each year intelligent machines take over more jobs formerly held by humans; and experts predict this trend will not stop anytime soon. Even teachers, doctors, and government officials will one day be replaced by increasingly ‘smarter’ systems.

Economist Kim Shin-hwan at South Korea's Hyundai Research Institute says, "By 2015, robots should be able to assist teachers in the classroom. By 2018, they should be able to teach on their own, and this will cause many teachers to lose their jobs."

What kind of quality would a teaching machine provide? Because of its more powerful mind and perfect memory, many future followers believe it could be superior to a human teacher. Though early robots appear clumsy and crude, experts predict that future versions by 2018 will become competent instructors.

In healthcare, computer programs are already wielding a positive impact. Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, describes in a YouTube video how patient-focused technology is improving medicine. In other examples, the Artificial Neural Network helps Mayo Clinic doctors diagnose cardiac patients, many websites provide free medical advice; and TV ads often disclose critical data.

The ultimate tool to replace doctors though, could be the nanorobot, a tiny microscopic-size machine that can whiz through veins replacing aging and damaged cells with new youthful ones. This nanowonder with expected development time of mid-to-late 2030s could eliminate nearly all need for human doctors.

Even government jobs may be taken over by automatons. The recent U.S. Congress debate over finances, expose the inadequacies of human governing when members stubbornly refuse to consider opponents views. Experts believe artificial intelligence systems, circa 2040s, would avert these debacles.

Naysayers, though, see allowing machines to make choices for humans as a threat to our dignity. They argue that we should not let computers replace positions such as law makers, judges, or police officers. However, in her book, "Machines Who Think", Pamela McCorduck argues, "I'd rather take my chances with an impartial computer." Experts estimate by 2035, 50 million jobs will be lost to machines.

What's the solution? As machines take over occupations, there is still much that humans can do to stay employed. Futurist Richard Samson, in his Futurist Magazine article, "Highly Human Jobs", suggests that human knowledge will continue to be needed for some time. AI falls short in areas that are too quirky, emotional, or intuitive to program. Humans still outperform machines in these types of jobs.

Samson describes opportunities in knowledge-intensive occupations. He cites as examples those who can create the electronic replacement of people; such as doctors who work with designers to perfect robotic systems that eventually dispense with the doctor; or the Stanford professors who created Coursera, a course that teaches millions of students globally, while replacing thousands of local teachers.

However, experts predict by the end of the century; or possibly much sooner, all jobs will disappear. Some believe the final solution will take the form of a Basic Income Guarantee, made available as a fundamental right for everyone. Futurist Marshall Brain in his Robotic Freedom Blog agrees with the idea.

America should create a $25,000 annual stipend for every U.S. adult, Brain says, which would be phased in over two-to-three decades. The payments could be paid for by ending welfare programs, taxing automated systems, adding a consumption tax, allowing ads on currency, and other creative ideas.

How might people spend extra time when working is no longer a part of their lives? Some may further their education. Others could visit exotic vacation spots around the planet, hop a Virgin Atlantic ship to the ISS; or maybe really get wild – leave Earth and give space living a try on a Moon or Mars colony.

Arrival of human level automated systems marks a transformative time in history. Automatons promise a utopian future in a world filled with leisure and adventure for everyone.


Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.

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