A number of recent studies predict that robots will replace millions of human workers as artificial intelligence continues to evolve.
In a way, none of this is new: Technological advances often result in a reduced need for human employees. Manufacturers have been using automation for many decades, and in more recent years, states have been phasing out human tollbooth operators in favor of electronic, cashless toll systems.
However, the prospect of being replaced by an intelligent machine strikes a particularly foreboding nerve in many people. It doesn’t matter if that “machine” is an algorithm-driven software program running on enterprise IT infrastructures or actual, physical robots imbued with artificial intelligence (AI).
That’s why, as the World Economic Forum writes, “Robotics companies, keen to avoid the insinuation that their products take jobs from humans, talk a lot these days about ‘co-bots’ (collaborative robots). Humans and robots will increasingly collaborate, they say, with humans freed to do more productive, fulfilling tasks thanks to machines taking on the grunt work.”
But is that how things actually will play out? Not according to speakers at last spring’s Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. From Reuters:
Technology has not only done away with low-wage, low-skill jobs, some of the more than 700 speakers said. They cited robots operating trucks in some Australian mines; corporate litigation software replacing employees with advanced degrees who used to sift through thousands of documents prior to trials; and on Wall Street, the automation of jobs previously done by bankers with MBAs or PhDs.
Let’s take these scenarios to their next logical step in the workplace. If robots can replace not only unskilled, assembly-line workers, but also highly educated financial professionals, could they not also supervise human employees?
With continued advances in artificial intelligence, isn’t it possible that some enterprises will see an opportunity to thin the ranks of middle management? In 20 or 30 years, could the CEO or CIO of a business be an intelligent robot or program?
VentureBeat explored this topic in-depth back in March, making the following thought-provoking points:
Employees may not like it, but computerized staffing decisions are more efficient. This is because human managers have a limited perspective of the workspace, whereas a robot can monitor the data generated from hundreds of human beings at once.
Computers are not smarter than humans, but they can make better decisions by taking into account factors beyond human sight.
Investors and shareholders may ultimately push algorithmic management into mainstream use. Not only does this type of management provide more transparency, it also prevents favoritism, embezzlement and whimsical actions.
If I were a board member of a large corporation, these would seem like pretty compelling benefits. Still, all of this raises fascinating questions about the willingness or ability of humans to take direction from and be evaluated by a machine, and that’s another big part of the equation. We’ll find out soon enough, I suspect.
Are you ready to report to a robot boss?