Man v Machine, 2019 (which robot's got a beady eye on your job?)
May 27, 2019
Of course you think you are. But just you wait. Because robots are already out there, looking to replace 800 million jobs by 2030 - one-fifth of the global workforce. Last week they were targeting delivery drivers - Ford, the car people, unveiled Digit the delivery droid that unfolds from the back of a self driving car and delivers to your door.
Super creepy. What else is doing a job humans used to do?
Only this week, China reported a robot called Walklake that's a virtual school nurse in more than 2,000 preschools. Look into its glassy eyes and stick your hand inside and it takes just three seconds to diagnose the likes of conjunctivitis or foot and mouth disease. Eww.
Wasn't it Elon Musk who in 2017 said that in the future, robots would "be able to do everything better than us... I mean all of us".
It was. And ironically Brexit is accelerating the march of robots in the UK. Because we opted for cheap migrant labour for so long, Britain has the lowest density of robots in manufacturing among the Group of 10 nations. Now that EU labour pool is closing, we are ripe for investment in job-stealing bots. (Regions most at risk of losing jobs to robots are those that voted for Brexit).
A lesson in being careful for what you wish for (you Brexiteers). So where will our next robots appear?
Bars and restaurants. There's a shortage of service staff in the UK and Flippy the robot burger-flipper has almost finished its first year at Caliburger in Pasadena, California, flipping or frying 80 baskets of food an hour and even cleaning up afterwards. Expect world domination. Then there's Makr Shakr, the world's first two bionic armed bartender, currently installed on cruise liners and in Las Vegas bars. It never turns up to work with a hangover and can make up to 120 Pina Coladas an hour. In Shanghai, Pizza Hut even has a concept store with two robot waiters that welcome diners, show them to their seats, take orders and deliver drinks.
Yeah but will they demand a 30% tip like I was asked for in New York recently? Jeeze. What about shopping?
It may become unrecognisable. There are now 10 staff-free, checkout-free Amazon Go stores in the US. An app allows customers to enter the store once it's downloaded, tracks the products you take and charges your account when you walk out. Target is "considering" a concept store entirely run by robots, while hardware store Lowe's rolled out a team of multilingual 'Lowebots' in 11 San Fran stores which help customers locate products and keep tabs on inventory levels. This report forecasts that robots will soon invade UK supermarkets.
If shops are being automated, what the heck do modern factories look like?
Dark. In China's Cambridge Industries Group (CIG), which makes telecoms equipment, most of its workforce has been replaced by robots, which will eventually toil away in energy-efficient inky blackness. Foxconn, which makes Apple, Samsung and Microsoft devices, replaced 60,000 human workers with robots in 2016 and also plans to automate all "repetitive" tasks roles. And that Zara dress you just bought? The retail behemoth operates 14 automated factories in Spain, full of robots that cut patterns and dye fabric so fast Zara can get a product from the design stage to the sales floor in 10 days. Not to mention Walmart's flying bots which can do a full stock check in under a day - it would take a human a month.
Crikey. What about cobots - could they be our next coworker? (Maybe I just Googled the word 'cobot', maybe I didn't)
As you know, cobots work with humans, not for them. They are essentially half robots. DHL started using two cobots called Baxter and Sawyer at its warehouses in the US where they perform packing tasks alongside human colleagues. Six months ago DHL announced a $300 million (£233m) investment in more of them.
I'm getting slightly bored now - are there any more fun ones around?
Ok, ok - how about Mario the robot which helps human hotel staff check in guests at the Ghent Marriott Hotel in Belgium? Or Wally the room service droid which delivers food and drink to guests at the Marriott Residence Inn in Los Angeles? Yotel's Boston hotel has a guest services droid called YO2D2.
Oh please. Thankfully writers have a 3.8% chance of automation
Not so hasty with that pleased look. Last week it was revealed that Primer, an AI company, has built a tool capable of writing headlines that look like those a human would produce.
Bad headlines are a dime a dozen - let me know when a robot wins a Nobel Prize for Literature...