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In the future, which jobs should be taken over by robots ?

April 29, 2023 · Comment icon 20 comments

Would you buy one of these to do your cooking and to clean your house ? Image Credit: Tesla / Elon Musk
Robots are going to be everywhere in the coming years, but are there some jobs that we shouldn't be too quick to give up ?
The social separation imposed by the pandemic led us to rely on technology to an extent we might never have imagined - from Teams and Zoom to online banking and vaccine status apps.

Now, society faces an increasing number of decisions about our relationship with technology. For example, do we want our workforce needs fulfilled by automation, migrant workers, or an increased birth rate?

In the coming years, we will also need to balance technological innovation with people's wellbeing - both in terms of the work they do and the social support they receive.

And there is the question of trust. When humans should trust robots, and vice versa, is a question our Trust Node team is researching as part of the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems hub. We want to better understand human-robot interactions - based on an individual's propensity to trust others, the type of robot, and the nature of the task. This, and projects like it, could ultimately help inform robot design.

This is an important time to discuss what roles we want robots and AI to take in our collective future - before decisions are taken that may prove hard to reverse. One way to frame this dialogue is to think about the various roles robots can fulfil.

Robots as our servants

The word "robot" was first used by the Czech writer, Karel Capek, in his 1920 sci-fi play Rossum's Universal Robots. It comes from the word "robota", meaning to do the drudgery or donkey work. This etymology suggests robots exist to do work that humans would rather not. And there should be no obvious controversy, for example, in tasking robots to maintain nuclear power plants or repair offshore wind farms.

However, some service tasks assigned to robots are more controversial, because they could be seen as taking jobs from humans.

For example, studies show that people who have lost movement in their upper limbs could benefit from robot-assisted dressing. But this could be seen as automating tasks that nurses currently perform. Equally, it could free up time for nurses and careworkers - currently sectors that are very short-staffed - to focus on other tasks that require more sophisticated human input.

Authority figures

The dystopian 1987 film Robocop imagined the future of law enforcement as autonomous, privatised, and delegated to cyborgs or robots.

Today, some elements of this vision are not so far away: the San Francisco Police Department has considered deploying robots - albeit under direct human control - to kill dangerous suspects.

But having robots as authority figures needs careful consideration, as research has shown that humans can place excessive trust in them.

In one experiment, a "fire robot" was assigned to evacuate people from a building during a simulated blaze. All 26 participants dutifully followed the robot, even though half had previously seen the robot perform poorly in a navigation task.
Robots as our companions

It might be difficult to imagine that a human-robot attachment would have the same quality as that between humans or with a pet. However, increasing levels of loneliness in society might mean that for some people, having a non-human companion is better than nothing. The Paro Robot is one of the most commercially successful companion robots to date - and is designed to look like a baby harp seal. Yet research suggests that the more human a robot looks, the more we trust it.

A study has also shown that different areas of the brain are activated when humans interact with either another human or a robot. This suggests our brains may recognise interactions with a robot differently from human ones.

Creating useful robot companions involves a complex interplay of computer science, engineering and psychology. A robot pet might be ideal for someone who is not physically able to take a dog for its exercise. It might also be able to detect falls and remind someone to take their medication.

How we tackle social isolation, however, raises questions for us as a society. Some might regard efforts to "solve" loneliness with technology as the wrong solution for this pervasive problem.

What can robotics and AI teach us?

Music is a source of interesting observations about the differences between human and robotic talents. Committing errors in the way humans do all the time, but robots might not, appears to be a vital component of creativity.

A study by Adrian Hazzard and colleagues pitted professional pianists against an autonomous disklavier (an automated piano with keys that move as if played by an invisible pianist). The researchers discovered that, eventually, the pianists made mistakes. But they did so in ways that were interesting to humans listening to the performance.

This concept of "aesthetic failure" can also be applied to how we live our lives. It offers a powerful counter-narrative to the idealistic and perfectionist messages we constantly receive through television and social media - on everything from physical appearance to career and relationships.

As a species, we are approaching many crossroads, including how to respond to climate change, gene editing, and the role of robotics and AI. However, these dilemmas are also opportunities. AI and robotics can mirror our less-appealing characteristics, such as gender and racial biases. But they can also free us from drudgery and highlight unique and appealing qualities, such as our creativity.

We are in the driving seat when it comes to our relationship with robots - nothing is set in stone, yet. But to make educated, informed choices, we need to learn to ask the right questions, starting with: what do we actually want robots to do for us?

Thusha Rajendran, Professor of Psychology, The National Robotarium, Heriot-Watt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article. The Conversation

Source: The Conversation | Comments (20)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #11 Posted by OverSword 12 months ago
If peoples value through work is removed or through power then what will be the new way people create value and power for themselves? 
Comment icon #12 Posted by Gromdor 12 months ago
As consumers- just like in the movie "Wall-E".
Comment icon #13 Posted by MissJatti 12 months ago
Unblocking toliets and sinks
Comment icon #14 Posted by Unadan 12 months ago
Security at the U.S. - Mexico border.
Comment icon #15 Posted by pellinore 12 months ago
Why? When you have a query, would you prefer the phone to be answered by a machine, rather than a person? You may be on your own with that.
Comment icon #16 Posted by pellinore 12 months ago
Computing giant IBM has said it plans to pause hiring for roles that could be replaced with artificial intelligence in the next five years. CEO Arvind Krishna  said that up to 30% of non-customer-facing roles - tallying a figure of roughly 7,800 jobs - could be replaced by AI and automation in the near future.  These 'back-office functions', which include human resources, amount to a total of roughly 26,000 workers within the company, Krishna added.  IBM says it will pause hiring as CEO says around 7,800 non-customer facing roles could be replaced | Daily Mail Online
Comment icon #17 Posted by pellinore 12 months ago
@OverSword this is probably the most intelligent comment on this thread. "De-skilling" has been a concern for decades, I remember years ago when plastics started to dominate plumbing, plumbers were concerned that push-fit and speed joints would mean the end of skills like soldering and tube-bending. It may sound a silly example, and they have as a trade adapted, but it is a real concern. And a very good point @Splendor Solis . But it works both ways- a robot won't be hung-over or preoccupied with some personal problem.  
Comment icon #18 Posted by pellinore 12 months ago
Warehouse robot becomes exhausted:    
Comment icon #19 Posted by NotAlien7 11 months ago
We may never see the benefits of robot assistance in every walk of life if all this technology is already in the wrong hands. AI is a very powerful new age which is approaching fast and with every country on earth trying to get ahead with their version of AI to become the smartest first and gain the ability of taking over the world first, I would say it's already in the wrong hands and it's unstoppable. 
Comment icon #20 Posted by Tatetopa 11 months ago
The people who own our jobs do.  Unless you work for yourself, you don't own your job, somebody else does.  Who says they can?  If we abide by the capitalist system, stay in our lanes and don't revolt then we will take what we get from those who own the power.  For example, I don't think Elon cares about  Tesla workers very much and would probably be happy to replace them with cheaper, no back-talk robots. We make fun of lemmings,  imagining them in masses jumping over a cliff is a trope.  Maybe we are not a lot smarter. If climate change is real or this idea that robots will replace us... [More]

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