A trivial example: Humans have trouble making a single brass screw unassisted, but automation can produce a thousand exact ones per hour. Without automation, we could not make a single computer chip—a job that requires degrees of precision, control, and unwavering attention that our animal bodies dont possess. Likewise no human, indeed no group of humans, no matter their education, can quickly search through all the web pages in the world to uncover the one page revealing the price of eggs in Katmandu yesterday. Every time you click on the search button you are employing a robot to do something we as a species are unable to do alone. While the displacement of formerly human jobs gets all the headlines, the greatest benefits bestowed by robots and automation come from their occupation of jobs we are unable. We dont have the attention span to inspect every square millimeter of every cat scan looking for cancer cells. We dont have the millisecond reflexes needed to inflate molten glass into the shape of a bottle.
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Lets begin with quadrant A: jobs humans can do but robots can do even better. Humans can weave cotton cloth with great effort, but automated looms make perfect cloth, by the mile, for a few cents. The only reason to buy handmade cloth today is because you want the imperfections humans introduce. We no longer value irregularities while traveling 70 miles per hour, though—so the fewer humans who touch our car as it is being made, the better. And yet for more complicated chores, we still tend to believe computers and robots cant be trusted. Thats why weve been slow to acknowledge how theyve mastered some conceptual routines, in some cases even surpassing their mastery of physical routines. A computerized brain known as the autopilot can fly a 787 jet unaided, but irrationally we place human pilots in the cockpit to babysit the autopilot just in case. In the 1990s, computerized mortgage appraisals replaced human appraisers wholesale. Much tax preparation has gone to computers, as well as routine x-ray analysis and pretrial evidence-gathering—all once done by highly paid smart people. Weve accepted utter reliability in robot manufacturing; soon well accept it in robotic intelligence essay and service. Next is quadrant B: jobs that humans cant do but robots can.
I ask Brooks to walk with me through a local McDonalds and point out the jobs that his kind of robots can replace. He demurs and suggests it might be 30 years before robots will cook for. In a fast food place youre not doing the same task very long. Youre always changing things on the fly, so you need special solutions. We are not trying to sell a specific solution. We are building a general-purpose machine that other workers can set up themselves and work alongside. And once summary we can cowork with robots right next to us, its inevitable that our tasks will bleed together, and soon our old work will become theirs—and our new work will become something we can hardly imagine. To understand how robot replacement will happen, its useful to break down our relationship with robots into four categories, as summed up in this chart: The rows indicate whether robots will take over existing jobs or make new ones, and the columns indicate whether these.
It even generated its own electricity. For a hundred years the factories inside its walls changed the world around. Now the capabilities of essay Baxter and the approaching cascade of superior robot workers spur Brooks to speculate on how these robots will shift manufacturing in a disruption greater than the last revolution. Looking out his office window at the former industrial neighborhood, he says, right now we think of manufacturing as happening in China. But as manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost owl of production. Nearby will be cheap. So well get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within 5 miles of where they are needed. That may be true of making stuff, but a lot of jobs left in the world for humans are service jobs.
Priced at 22,000, its in a different league compared with the 500,000 total bill of its predecessors. It is as if those established robots, with their batch-mode programming, are the mainframe computers of the robot world, and Baxter is the first pc robot. It is likely to be dismissed as a hobbyist toy, missing key features like sub-millimeter precision, and not serious enough. But as with the pc, and unlike the mainframe, the user can interact with it directly, immediately, without waiting for experts to mediate—and use it for nonserious, even frivolous things. Its cheap enough that small-time manufacturers can afford one to package up their wares or custom paint their product or run their 3-D printing machine. Or you could staff up a factory that makes iPhones. Photo: Peter Yang, baxter was invented in a century-old brick building near the Charles river in Boston. In 1895 the building was a manufacturing marvel in the very center of the new manufacturing world.
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It is not as fast, strong, or precise as other industrial robots, but it is smarter. To train the bot you simply grab business its arms and guide them in the correct motions and sequence. Its a kind of watch me do this routine. Baxter learns the procedure and then repeats. Any worker is capable of this show-and-tell; you dont even have to review be literate. Previous workbots required highly educated engineers and crack programmers to write thousands of lines of code (and then debug them) in order to instruct the robot in the simplest change of task.
The code has to be loaded in batch mode,. E., in large, infrequent batches, because the robot cannot be reprogrammed while it is being used. Turns out the real cost of the typical industrial robot is not its hardware but its operation. Industrial robots cost 100,000-plus to purchase but can require four times that amount over a lifespan to program, train, and maintain. The costs pile up until the average lifetime bill for an industrial robot is half a million dollars or more. The third difference, then, is that Baxter is cheap.
But its different in three significant ways. First, it can look around and indicate where it is looking by shifting the cartoon eyes on its head. It can perceive humans working near it and avoid injuring them. And workers can see whether it sees them. Previous industrial robots couldnt do this, which means that working robots have to be physically segregated from humans.
The typical factory robot is imprisoned within a chain-link fence or caged in a glass case. They are simply too dangerous to be around, because they are oblivious to others. This isolation prevents such robots from working in a small shop, where isolation is not practical. Optimally, workers should be able to get materials to and from the robot or to tweak its controls by hand throughout the workday; isolation makes that difficult. Baxter, however, is aware. Using force-feedback technology to feel if it is colliding with a person or another bot, it is courteous. You can plug it into a wall socket in your garage and easily work right next. Second, anyone can train Baxter.
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Robots will think different. To see how far artificial intelligence has penetrated our lives, we revelation need to summary shed the idea that they will be humanlike. Consider Baxter, a revolutionary new workbot from Rethink robotics. Designed by rodney brooks, the former mit professor who invented the best-selling roomba vacuum cleaner and its descendants, baxter is an early example of a new class of industrial robots created to work alongside humans. Baxter does not look impressive. Its got big strong arms and a flatscreen display like many industrial bots. And Baxters hands perform repetitive manual tasks, just as factory robots.
The rote tasks of any information-intensive red job can be automated. It doesnt matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic. And it has already begun. Baxter is an early example of a new class of industrial robots created to work alongside humans. Heres why were at the inflection point: Machines are acquiring smarts. We have preconceptions about how an intelligent robot should look and act, and these can blind us to what is already happening around. To demand that artificial intelligence be humanlike is the same flawed logic as demanding that artificial flying be birdlike, with flapping wings.
a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs. All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just dont call it that. Witness one piece of software by narrative science (profiled in issue.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games stats or generate a synopsis of a companys stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic.
It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of todays occupations will likewise be replaced by automation. Yes, dear reader, even you will have your job taken away by machines. In other words, robot replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval night is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work. First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses.
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Its hard to believe youd have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that—in slow motion—is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of summary the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived—appliance repairman, offset printer, food chemist, photographer, web designer—each building on previous automation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.