Group 1 2013: Robotic Technology in the Job Industry

Abstract

In the technology driven world we live in today, there seems to be no limit to the amount of things that computers and robots can accomplish for us. In fact, approximately two million robots, both household and industrial, can be found all across the world. From simple everyday tasks to complex, intricate skills, the things these robots can achieve is nothing short of amazing. But as robots continue to have a growing presence in our lives, is there a limit to what they should be allowed to do?

For this group assignment, we have chosen to focus on the technological controversy of robotic developments and the use of robots in today’s society, specifically in the context of taking away jobs from people. The question we pose for debate is, “As robotic technology advances and becomes present in our everyday lives, should robots be allowed to replace humans in routine tasks that provide jobs for people?” This is a controversial issue that affects a number of constituencies including roboticists, engineers, employers and employees, economists, and many more. As there is already a significant need to create more jobs in our country, along with several other factors, we are taking the opposing side on this question and as such do not believe that robots should replace humans in everyday jobs. In this article, we will attempt to defend our argument in examining the technical, economical, and ethical perspectives.

Introduction

Robots have an increasing presence in today’s society, and as technology advances there will be no limit to the things they will be able to accomplish. The most common types of robots being used for jobs and tasks can be split into two categories - household or industrial. Household robots can help relieve us of mundane cleaning and chores like vacuuming, mopping, lawn mowing and other tasks. It is safe to say that after a hard day’s work, most people would appreciate the relief from such tasks at home. However on the industrial side of things, robots can be found performing jobs such as assembling parts, moving equipment, operating machinery, data entry, and more. Many of these tasks might be considered routine or boring, but regardless of how detailed or exciting the work is, these jobs provide work for people. So here in lies the issue of deciding to what extent these robots should be allowed to replace humans in tasks that provide jobs for people to earn a living.

Background

The first ideas about robots and robotic technology date back as far as the late 1400s, possibly earlier. As the term has such as long history, it is common for there to be many conceptions about what a “robot” is. If you were to ask some people their thoughts about robots, they might consider any type of technology a robot, including computers and other machines that do something for us, like coffee makers or dishwashers. Ask a different group of people and you’re sure to get another answer - those who picture robots as human like machines that are capable of a variety of tasks. In the context of this article, we refer to robots in a similar sense as the later.

The word “robot” was first used in such a context of mechanical people in 1921 by Czech dramatist, Karel Capek. In his play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), intelligent machines were designed to serve their human makers, and were so distinguished from humans by a lack of emotions. Following this usage, the term “robot” began to grow and develop. In the 1950s and 60s, great technological developments propelled the robotics field forward as the first industrial robot was made as well as the first robotic arm. As the 1900s come to an end, robotic technology continues to develop and grow as we see the first robotic vehicles, robotic animals, and detailed human-like robots.

Today, advances in robotic technology can be seen everywhere, and the term “robot” is widely used to define advanced machines that can be programmed by humans to perform various tasks without human control or supervision. Such machines do not need to be “human-like” to be considered a robot in this context.

Robots in the Job Industry

Technical Considerations

Robotic developments have certainly come a long way from its early beginnings, and there are a number of ways that robots can be beneficial to people and our society. However, from a technical standpoint, there are still a lot of possibilities for error that could be very serious and potentially harmful to humans. Three of the largest fields in the job industry that use robots are the military, the industrial sector, and astronautics. These fields generally require some extent of training and disciplinary learning for a person to obtain a position, but they provide an immense number of jobs. They are also fields that would have a severe amount of effects and repercussions on multiple constituents should an error occur.

Today, many military organizations use the help of military robots to performm risky jobs. These robots used in military are usually employed with an integrated system, including video screens, sensors, grippers and cameras. The military robots also have different shapes according to the purposes of each robot. One example is the MULE ARV-A-L. The MULE ARV-A-L robot can fire line-of-sight guns as well as anti-tank weaponry. Other examples include remote controlled robots like TALON; this robot is capable of carrying M240 machine, .50 caliber rifle, grenades and rocket launchers. These machines can provide a great deal of help to soldiers, but these are also tasks that can be performed by human soldiers themselves. Military experts have considered the possibility that the systems of these robots could be hacked by enemies, and this could be a very serious issue. Enemy control of the robots could cause them to turn on our own troops and create an immense amount of destruction. Another problem to consider is the fact that these robots cannot sense change or make decisions without being programmed to do so. Imagine if an enemy were to try and surrender but a robot continued to fire at them. Not only is that immoral, but it could cause many negative consequences, all because of a technical error of a machine.

In the industrial sector of the job industry, many factories could benefit from the use of robots. However, robots could also bring a bunch of problems. First of all, incorporating industrial robots does not guarantee results. Without planning, companies can have difficulty achieving their goals. Every company has its own system and set of standards they desire to meet, so they should use specific robots that are designed to meet these standards. If the robots have technical errors or malfunctions, though, this could cause the factory to lose a lot of money. One minor setback in a production line could cause delays and problems throughout the rest of the factory. Another consideration in the industrial sector is safety. Although robots may protect workers from some hazards by performing high-risk tasks, their very presence can create other safety problems. For example, a robot’s system could malfunction and cause a worker to get harmed or possibly stuck in the machinery somehow. If an accident was to happen, a robot wouldn’t be able to recognize this and stop production so the possibility for harm becomes worse.

Lastly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is another field that has begun to use robots more frequently in the field. Aeronautics is another discipline that requires a great amount of training for a person to be qualified, but again, provides numerous jobs. The robots that are being used to do things that humans cannot yet do is obviously very beneficial, but there are other tasks that robots are now being used to do that humans are capable of doing. For example, robots are replacing humans on space shuttles to perform repairs and maintenance. While this may have some benefits, according to experts in NASA, there are some problems that scientists and engineers should first consider. One problem is that robots are not capable of performing task autonomously without guidance from humans. As we all know, human beings create the robots, so robots in a spaceship could not do anything without the guidance from human beings. Thus why wouldn’t you just keep a human in the job in the first place. Secondly, the abilities of robots are suitable only for simple reconnaissance or other activities in which no major difficulties are met. Robots could fix some problems in the spaceship, but many times, a problem arising on the spaceship could only be solved by astronauts since some tiny parts of the spaceship need accurate mending.

With all of these things in consideration, the debate about robots taking the place of humans in the job industry is a losing battle when the technical aspect is considered. Though technological advances are continuously improving and robots do provide some degree of benefits, the possibility for technical error proves to be too great when dealing with such delicate jobs as the military, industrial and aeronautics fields, as well as many others. Not only that, but the fact that robots are programmed by humans and do not have the ability to make important decisions on their own, further defends the controversy in favor of people remaining in these jobs.

Economic Considerations

Robotic technology has the ability to affect the economy tremendously in many different ways. One of the most obvious and controversial effects pertains to the amount of jobs that robots and their technology may take over from human beings. Once robots begin to expunge humans from the workforce, the economy as a whole will suffer. When people are forced to earn lower wages or no wage at all, they are unable to participate in the economy. As this robotic technology continues to advance, more and more human jobs will be replaced and less and less people will be able to consume in the economy. In economic terms, “demand” is defined as the desire or need for something with consideration of the ability and willingness to pay for it. The “supply” of a product has a positive relationship with the demand of a product. This means, as one rises the other one also rises, and vice versa. In the event that people begin to lose their jobs and consequently lose their wages, the demand for products will decrease and the supply for products will decrease. When both the supply and demand for products declines, the economy also declines.

The reduced number of jobs available for humans began more than three decades ago with manufacturing occupations. A lot of manufacturing occupations are perceived to require low/middle levels of skill and involve relatively structured tasks. The result of this is the acquiring of robotic technology in order to complete these tasks without salary, human error, or liability. The downfall of human replacement is the fact that a machine does not have the ability to consume. The machine may use energy and resources but that has little to no effect on demand. Without the influence on demand, our economy lacks the ability to grow.

Other than manufacturing, robotic technology has been seen to take over other occupations. Some of these occupations that have fallen in human involvement include:

Bookkeepers – 26%
Travel agents – 46%
Word processors and typists – 63%
Telephone operators – 64%

It is foreseen that almost every job sector will be affected by some sort of robotic technology as this technology develops and advances. Professors could be replaced by online education. Healthcare professionals could be replaced by diagnostic robots. The progression of self-driving cars could destroy the jobs of truck drivers, bus drivers, and taxi and limo drivers.

The bulk of these fallen jobs are found in the middle-class, which is considered to be $38,000 to $68,000. An investigation done by The Associated Press showed that about half of the 7.5 million jobs that were lost since the Great Recession in 2008 were middle-class wages. The majority of these jobs will probably never be seen again. What’s more, experts of the labor market project that millions more will vanish as well.

The commitment to investment in robotic technology is very popular in the United States. Blaire Briody reports in the Fiscal Times, “Obama announced the National Robotic Initiative, a commitment to invest $70 million in next-generation robotics that will allow factory works, health care providers, soldiers, surgeons and astronauts to carry out hard-to-do tasks.” One example of an important task that a robot has handled in the United States is the final capping of the BP well that spilled millions of crude oil into the Gulf. “As useful and exciting as these new generation machines are, Obama might not see the hole robots are digging for us: They’re rapidly evolving to take over hundreds of thousands of human jobs.”

Along with the United States, investments in such technology have been acknowledged in Japan and South Korea. Christine Soares of the Fiscal Times reports, “Japan and South Korea have both formally endorsed robot technology as a national priority and necessity, and put billions of dollars in research funding behind the drive.”

If robotic technology continues to expand in the fashion that it has, and continues to replace humans in their occupations, the economy as whole will be forced towards reconstruction. The simple fact of the matter is the inability for the technology to participate in the economy drastically affects the economy. There is no longer income for the people who have been replaced in their jobs. Martin Ford, author of “The Lights in the Tunnel,” a book predicting widespread job losses, explains, “Jobs and wages have historically been the primary mechanism that redistributes income (and purchasing power) from producers back to consumers. Widespread reliance on robots and automation may ultimately cause that mechanism to break down – and that will be a threat to continued prosperity.” One suggestion which was made by Martin Ford, “In the long run, I think there will be no alternative except to implement direct redistribution of income. One possibility is a guaranteed minimum income funded by more progressive taxes (on the robot owners), and possibly by other sources (for example, a carbon tax).” Doing something along these lines would in no sense of the word be simple. This would require many years of discussion and collaboration in order to find a system that would work fairly.

Ethical and Social Considerations

The final topic to consider in this controversy is the ethical and social dilemma concerning robots replacing humans in everyday jobs. These ethical and social issues have effects in areas such as the government, education, and humanity in general.

On the government side of things, ethics and human-rights has always been a controversial topic. What should the government be allowed to control, and what do we as citizens have rights to? The government has provided a judicial system and set of laws which humans are to follow, and these laws have effects on many aspects of the job industry. For example, there are laws that make certain requirements for people to be eligible to hold a job (ie: citizenship or residency in the United States). If robots take the place of humans in jobs, do these laws no longer apply? Are robots considered citizens or are they not held to the same standard as humans who are trying to get jobs? All of these questions and issues fuel the ethical dilemma of this controversy.

Another area of the ethical dilemma in this controversy is education. For as long as a structured educational system has been around, the intent of getting an education is to gain knowledge for a particular trade or skill in which someone will usually hold a job. Robots are programmed by humans, so there is no educational component for them, and if they replace humans in jobs than many people would start to find an educational system no longer necessary. If that were the case, robots would not only be taking jobs from people but also their right and desire to have an education, and this could have drastic effects on our society. Without education and knowledge, the technological advances that we have today wouldn’t even be possible, so it is imperative that our desire and right for education is not taken by the very machines that we create.

After all of these issues have been considered, there is still the obvious ethical factor that robots are in fact machines, and not humans. Even the most advanced robots that can be programmed to have emotional responses and interactions with humans, they will never be able to have thought and free will like humans do. This presents issues in a number of ways for the job industry. As it has already been stated, a robot would not be capable of making a decision or rationalizing an action in an unprogrammed or unpredicted situation. If an error occurs or a robot is presented with situation that is has not been programmed to encounter, there could be serious consequences. Because they don’t have the ability to think or feel, actual people could get hurt, money and products could be lost, or other possible negative effects could happen. There is also the loss of human interaction to consider. Imagine going to a job where mostly robots perform the routine tasks and there are very few coworkers to talk to, or going out to the store where robots have taken over positions as cashiers and clerks that you would normally interact with. Though it may the least threatening side effect of this controversy, it is still an important one to consider. Our society thrives and grows on interpersonal actions and communication with each other; it is how we learn and improve together. If robots started to take over more and more human jobs, those interactions would be lost and our society could begin to suffer as a result.

Conclusion

After examining the various standpoints of this controversy, it is clear to conclude based on the facts and perspective provided that it is not in the best interest of our society to allow robots to replace humans in everyday jobs. Although robotic technology is very advanced and still improving, there are too many possibilities for error and areas of our lives that such changes could negatively affect. The best outcome for this scenario is to find a balance for utilizing the benefits that robots can provide while not harming or changing our society in a negative way. It is possible that humans and robots could work together side by side one day, but for now there are still many improvements to be made, errors to be eliminated, and societal issues to be solved.

Works Cited

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Justin Francis

(Wiki Response)

This is a very well written and thought out article. I completely agree with the contents of the article. I personally believe that technology is a good thing but it must be used in moderation. Advancement in robotics and similar technologies are needed for society to grow and progress. However, when it comes to replacing human fulfilled jobs, that is where we must cross the line. In order for the economy to flourish as well as progress, there must be a perfect balance between hardworking people and the technology THEY use, not the technology that replaces them. Until we as a nation can find that balance, unfortunately I feel more and more human jobs will be replaced by robotics, machinery, and other technologies. Here is a report from the show 60 Minutes that I thought corresponded well with this article.


Justin Borrison
I like how you presented your article, it was really thought out and organized well. I think that robots are always bad tho. To the point of robots driving trucks and cars to reach destinations, is actually beneficial to society. I believe that robots can save lives and increase the delivery rate because they are less prone to falling asleep at the wheel and can go longer without needing a break. Also they can probably calculate the odds of crashing better than a human which can lead to less fatalities. Texting and drunk driving are becoming huge problems this can reduce maybe even cancel it out if we don't have humans driving. So while I do believe robots can take away a lot of the jobs for humans and maybe hurt the economy, but is saving lives may be worth it


Caleb Farris

I like how the article is structured. It is very easy to read and follow. Also, I never thought about many of the points that this article brought to light. Robots driving trucks?! That is crazy but also that doesn't seem to far out of reach in todays time. I am sure that 30 years ago people didnt think that we would have much of the technology that is readily availible today. Great leaps are going to be made in approaching years and this article brought many of those to the light.

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