John Daly: How robots might actually keep humans in work

A friend who travelled to Las Vegas last week, for the Conor McGregor MMA fight, brought back a tale almost as interesting as the pugilistic drama that unfolded.

Staying at the Vdara Hotel, he discovered many of his needs were accommodated by a pair of delivery robots — Jett and Fetch — who operate as “lobby ambassadors”, guiding guests to their rooms, operating the lifts, and delivering room service. Opting to settle his nerves after the fight, with a soothing cocktail, my pal then pitched up at a bar on the Strip, called ‘The Tipsy Robot’, where he was expertly served his libation by a bartending automation called, simply, Robot One.

Victor Reza Valanejad, owner of the premises, claims it is the first robot bar in the world. “The robots cannot function without humans,” he says.

Robots still need people behind the scenes, operating the controls.

Also, one supposes these mechanical creations are not yet programmed to tell their customers a decent joke. That said, however, a recent study, by the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis, predicts that, by the year 2035, over 65% of Las Vegas employees could lose their jobs to robots.

According to research by the World Economic Forum, artificially intelligent robots could trigger a “fourth industrial revolution” and displace more than half of the human workforce by 2025.

Robots could assume 52% of the current workload in less than a decade, forcing 75m people out of jobs.

“By 2025, more than half of all current workplace tasks will be performed by machines, as opposed to 29% today,” it predicts.

However, this shift in workplace dynamics could be offset by robots creating even more jobs than they take over.

One set of estimates indicates that 75m jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 133m new roles may emerge, that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms,” the report suggests.

At the recent Learnovation EdTech summit in Dublin, future-of-work experts warned that the current obsession with consumer technology — primarily smartphones — may hamper our creative ability to cope with the coming revolution. An unsettling prospect, but one we must face up to, according to Peter Cosgrove, founder of Ireland’s Future Work Institute.

“If you look at non-tech or non-manufacturing industries, you can see how technology is changing them already.

“Look how Airbnb and Uber have come into the market, out of nowhere, and changed the hospitality and transport industries,” he said.

While artificial intelligence and robots are already commonplace in manufacturing, they are now moving onto more cognitive jobs, such as accounting functions and the filing of tax returns. Asking a farmer, 50 years ago, what jobs his children or grandchildren would be doing, he couldn’t have envisaged the world of bloggers or the internet, Mr Cosgrove suggests.

My biggest concern is how invasive technology is becoming in all places. If we can’t put our phones or tablets down, how can we be creative and look at what we need for the future of work. Everything we want is now in our hands, but too much of what we want can sometimes not be good.

"There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: that’s the tech industry and the drug industry; both, you could argue, are equally addictive. To continue to innovate and come up with new solutions, we need to take time away from technology and give our brains a chance to be creative.”

Learnovate Centre director, Owen White, echoed those sentiments, predicting the future worlds of education and work would be very different to those of today.

“In the workplace, artificial intelligence is primed to change the balance of jobs carried out by humans and machines. This re-balancing will precipitate a shift in the skills required by organisations,” he said.

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