Robots unlikely to take big bites out of employment, expert says

Sep 02, 2014 by Steve Tally
The role of robots in future labor markets will be the subject of a lecture by Purdue economics professor David Hummels at the upcoming "Dawn or Doom" conference. The conference, which will examine the role of several rapidly expanding technologies in society, will be Sept. 18 and is free and open to the public. Credit: Purdue University image

Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics mean that machines will soon be able to do many of the tasks of today's workers. And not just blue collar jobs in areas such as manufacturing, but even in such white collar occupations as lawyers, doctors and – gulp – journalists.

A new viral video titled "Humans Need Not Apply," which has garnered more than 2 million YouTube views in just over two weeks, says that the new robots will be smart enough to take jobs even in occupations normally thought of as being incompatible with .

But David Hummels, a professor of economics at Purdue University, says humans still have a unique advantage that may never be able to emulate: our ability to respond to other humans.

"We have evolved over 100,000 years to be exquisitely perceptive to visual and aural cues from other people around us, which is an important skill that machines may never be able to match," Hummels says.

In addition, Hummels says evolutionary adaptation has created in humans extraordinary sensorimotor skills that are key components of many occupations. Elevating machines to the point where they could perform jobs, like construction work, that require manual dexterity would require a great deal of innovation.

"Although we talk about innovation quite a bit, and every company claims to be doing it, path-breaking innovation of the sort necessary to solve problems like dexterous machines is actually quite rare and expensive," he says.

Hummels will discuss the labor market consequences of automation and robotics in a lecture titled "Man Versus Machine and the Future of Work" during a conference at Purdue called "Dawn or Doom: The New Technology Explosion."

The Dawn or Doom conference is Sept. 18 on Purdue's West Lafayette campus and is free and open to the public.

According to Hummels, history shows plenty of examples of advancing technologies displacing workers in many areas.

"For example, in 1850 two-thirds of the people in the United States were employed in agriculture, providing our nation's food," Hummels says. "Now farmers are less than 2 percent of our labor force. When mechanization and automation replaces workers, economies find something else for people to do."

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As the video points out, white collar, so-called "knowledge" workers are also already being replaced by robots in areas such as journalism. The Associated Press, for example, uses robots to write simple business stories, and The Los Angeles Times uses reporters to write about earthquakes. Following a quake last spring, the robot wrote a story about the quake in less than three minutes – significantly faster than any human could have written it.

The global economy has seen eras of disruptive change before - from the introduction of machines and industrial processes, from electricity, from automobiles, and from personal computers and the Internet. Some occupations disappeared, but new jobs arose from the change.

"One of the fundamental problems with the video and similar books and articles is that they claim that innovation is getting faster and faster, and cheaper and cheaper, and that we're going to lose the ability to control it," Hummels says. "That's just not consistent with any historical evidence we have. When there are large breakthroughs, like electrification or computers, you see initial waves of innovation to take advantage of these fundamental technologies. When you're caught up in it, that wave looks unstoppable. But it eventually recedes."

Hummels says that machines will be better than people at an increasing number of tasks. People, however, still have a large advantage when interacting with other people, because it's a trait that has been fine-tuned through evolution.

"We are social animals, and that matters to consumers. Take a pediatrician, for example. IBM's Watson and other expert systems are being developed to diagnose and provide a course of treatment for illness and disease. But when a parent brings their child to the doctor's office, they want a trained individual to reassure them and tell them that their child is going to be okay. They don't want to hear that from a machine.

"So what we'll see are people working in concert with machines, which is something that happens quite a bit already. The laptop computer on my desk does a terrible job of conducting research or teaching students, but it makes me better at both jobs when I use it."

Despite his optimism, Hummels says there will be some people and occupations that will lose out in the coming change.

"For some people it's already happening," he says. "If we look at wages in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010, the only groups who consistently saw an increase in salaries were people with advanced degrees, such as doctors, lawyers and people with PhDs. Everyone else, including people with bachelor's and master's degrees, saw a decline in wages. This was especially true for people at the low end of the education spectrum who have a high school degree or less."

Among the people who will have a disadvantage in the nearly-here robot economy:

* Men, who have two distinct disadvantages: Many men have historically been employed to do jobs that require strength, and robots and other forms of automation will replace many of these jobs because they are stronger and never get tired.

Second, many jobs in the future will require interpersonal skills such as empathy, caring and even affection. Occupations that use these skills are dominated by women. If men are unable or unwilling to improve interpersonal skills they will find it hard to compete in the job market.

* People without advanced degrees: As repetitive and physical jobs are replaced by automation, more emphasis will be placed on people who can solve problems and develop and market new products, Hummels says. Many of these types of jobs require a high level of cognitive ability and skill sets developed while pursuing college and advanced degrees.

* People with repetitive jobs: "A robot can install a windshield in a car factory because it does precisely the same thing over and over in an environment that never changes," Hummel says. "Robots will not be used to replace broken windshields at auto shops because too much about the environment (the type of car, the condition of the broken window) changes every time."

* "People who do stand-alone tasks: "If your job combines sensorimotor skills or human interaction with other tasks that a computer/robot might do, you might still be well-protected if it's hard to unbundle the former from the latter. (Think of the pediatrician)," Hummels says.

* People with poor interpersonal skills: As robots and computers replace many back-room jobs, humans will retain advantages in interacting with the public and working with colleagues on teams. This will place more emphasis on hiring people who are both technically proficient and have good interpersonal skills.

"There are some rarefied skills that you need in teams and, currently, you might have to put up with a pompous jerk because they have skills that we need," Hummels says. "As advanced automation allows machines to to do many of these tasks, especially in white collar , we won't have to work with the jerks any longer. If I'm an employer and I have an employee who's a jerk, I'll send them on down the road."

Explore further: For men in pink-collar jobs, a tradeoff: Lower pay, more job security

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axemaster
5 / 5 (13) Sep 02, 2014
But David Hummels, a professor of economics at Purdue University, says humans still have a unique advantage that machines may never be able to emulate: our ability to respond to other humans.

Whenever someone talks about how "we'll be OK because robots will never be able to do THIS", I just lean back in my chair and laugh.
Shootist
4 / 5 (10) Sep 02, 2014
In 40 years, 30-50% of adults will be idle (assuming we don't blow our collective selves to hell beforehand). I hope some smart bloke is designing the new Economics we will need to make sure that those 50% are still affluent enough to have the trappings of wealth in moderation (Plato's definition of middle class, iirc).
Msafwan
1.2 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2014
Government can regulate robot uses quite easily. They can & will prohibit robot use to protect jobs & the economy.

Also, there's no such utopia where everyone needed high paying jobs. There're places where cost of living is really low, and thus the wages is significantly less than a cost of a robot.

So, robot will only replace people when:
1) job is not needed, so government see no reason for regulation
2) cost of living is so high, company/corporation see no point in paying exorbitant amount of money to people.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (8) Sep 02, 2014
will prohibit robot use to protect jobs & the economy.

What do you need an economy for when robots do the work?

The sooner robots take over our jobs the better. I have better things to do than 9-to-5.
muggins
5 / 5 (1) Sep 02, 2014
David Hummels, a professor of economics
"But when a parent brings their child to the doctor's office, they want a trained individual to reassure them and tell them that their child is going to be okay. They don't want to hear that from a machine."
"humans still have a unique advantage that machines may never be able to emulate: our ability to respond to other humans."
"We have evolved over 100,000 years to be exquisitely perceptive to visual and aural cues from other people around us, which is an important skill that machines may never be able to match,"

What I'm reading here is not that a machine would be incapable of performing a job but human prejudice towards a machine would deter businesses employing robots to perform it. I don't want to belittle the human brain and body but it is theoretically possible to create a machine to perform any task a human can and better, it's just so far we don't have the knowledge to do so.
muggins
5 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2014
will prohibit robot use to protect jobs & the economy.

What do you need an economy for when robots do the work?

The sooner robots take over our jobs the better. I have better things to do than 9-to-5.


Exactly, what a waste of brain power putting time and effort into a job whose goal it is to make money. Money being a variable used in the monetary system we invented. It's not a bad system at the moment because we need people to work.
Aligo
Sep 02, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Expiorer
1 / 5 (1) Sep 02, 2014
Robots already do more than 80% of all labor.
I operate one of them.
SaulAlinsky
3 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2014
In 40 years, 30-50% of adults will be idle (assuming we don't blow our collective selves to hell beforehand). I hope some smart bloke is designing the new Economics we will need to make sure that those 50% are still affluent enough to have the trappings of wealth in moderation (Plato's definition of middle class, iirc).


Haha, Karl Marx died a long time ago. Mission accomplished.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Sep 02, 2014
"But when a parent brings their child to the doctor's office, they want a trained individual to reassure them and tell them that their child is going to be okay.

You know - rather than pander to the feelings of the parents I would have thought it more important that the child IS going to be OK.
If a machine doctor can do that even minimally better than a human one then, as a good parent, I'd say "screw my parental feelings - cure my child metal man".

krundoloss
5 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2014
It is obvious that we will have to come up with a way to increase efficiency in the workforce, without eliminating jobs. If we cannot, then we need a system to allow people to live without jobs, by helping others or something. How do we value each person's contribution to society, when there is less and less need for human contribution overall?
kotyto
3 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2014
He is an idiot, simply because the arrogant bastard thinks the rest of of us are dullards....
sennekuyl
5 / 5 (3) Sep 03, 2014

You know - rather than pander to the feelings of the parents I would have thought it more important that the child IS going to be OK.
If a machine doctor can do that even minimally better than a human one then, as a good parent, I'd say "screw my parental feelings - cure my child metal man".


To add to that; on the introduction of ATMs the murmurs were quite similar. Today, in rural towns with high unemployment where everyone pops in to yarn I don't think I've been in a bank with more than 3 clients at a time or noticed a line up into the bank like you used to get at closing time. Even in cities they look rather bare. People are actively avoiding entering banks, even old people. (The internet helps of course.)

Almost everyone has forgotten that ATMs are robots that actively displaced employees.
HTK
5 / 5 (3) Sep 03, 2014
ROFL

These stupid experts.

Imagine, all trucks, cars buses, coaches are automated to get rid of any drivers. All drivers unemployed. That's approx. 600 billion dollars. This is just one industry.

These so called experts need a lobotomy.
torque_xtr
not rated yet Sep 03, 2014
"People, however, still have a large advantage when interacting with other people, because it's a trait that has been fine-tuned through evolution."

And we are just losing that for good.

Look at the pictures of all the deviations exploding in the modern time and messing with our ability to communicate and all the business models that ruthlessly exploit our best human senses like trust and compassion and sense of purpose to get more profit... (and deliberately making psychological research to figure out how to get a better grip on all that) Expect the pictures like parents taking their children to robo-clinics, suspecting human medics beind paedophiles, and the mass urban madness because everyone gets feeling that noone can trust noone else and nothing anymore...
And maybe electronic Truth Seeker programs that work much better than infowar-plague-ridden humans.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (4) Sep 03, 2014
David Hummels, a professor of economics at Purdue University, says humans still have a unique advantage that machines may never be able to emulate: our ability to respond to other humans.

David Hummels is opining on topics of computer science and psychology. Not economics.

I have no great faith that we are 'safe' from A.I. being developed that will be able to convince us it's human. Witness the various Turing contests that are put on now, and how the contestants have improved over a relatively short time.

I'd rather hear him speculate on economic topics. In what way will most people contribute to the economy in a future where most of the existing jobs are done by robots? What sort of jobs will people have? We all can't be doctors, lawyers and engineers - there's not that much need. If people don't need to work (or can't), will they still experience the benefits of a robot driven economy? Or will there be stratification? Who will pay for all these robots? Who will own them?
Jixo
1 / 5 (4) Sep 03, 2014
IMO the occupation protection becomes a large obstacle of further progress in many areas of industry. In theoretical physics where the preparation of experts into new paradigm takes lotta time it's most apparent, but in another areas this brake becomes apparent too. For example, I'm convinced that the cold fusion research is ignored just not to threat the position of people in existing research of energy production/conversion/transport and/or storage. This ignorance costs billions of dollars and many lives, not to say about destruction of life environment. This for example brings the risk of global fossil fuel wars due to prolonged dependence on fossil fuels for the sake of employment in their industry.

The general consequence of this attitude is the spontaneous evolutionary progress of human society - the new solutions are adopted just after when all other options for their dismissal remain exhausted.
Jixo
1 / 5 (3) Sep 03, 2014
From perspective of free market society it's indeed possible to wait for newly established demand balance, but at the case of strategic commodities the laws of free market don't work well (the governments are lying about volume of actual oil supplies etc..). This brings the risk of political instabilities. We shouldn't wait for spontaneous rise of fossil fuels, which happens unexpectedly and usually too late. We should therefore take many actions in advance.

The consequences of this ignorance are apparent already. For example if the oil would be replaced with another source of energy in time, we wouldn't have the economical crisis in 2008, because this crisis was initiated just with rise of oil price. The current Ukraine crisis has its roots in the fight about newly revealed oil fields around Crimea. And we are facing the newly established conflicts at many other places (Middle East, Senkaku islands).
Msafwan
not rated yet Sep 03, 2014
@antialias_physorg
What do you need an economy for when robots do the work?
The sooner robots take over our jobs the better. I have better things to do than 9-to-5.

Robot is not free. In some places its cheaper to just donate money to people to do work.

Cost of living is different in different place. If your coffee cost 3$, then there is place where the same coffee cost 0.1$. Similarly, people's wages is lower in such places.
DingleBerry
not rated yet Sep 04, 2014
People think it's the robots that will take away all of the jobs. Robots have been around for years and no massive layoffs yet. But wait until the artificial intelligence arrives and makes those robots smaller than us, then yes, there will be plenty of job losses for those who can afford an expensive robot slave.
What nobody is talking about is that artificial intelligence being installed in a $300.00 notebook computer or server taking away jobs. By the year 2029 computers will be smarter than humans.
So who would you hire; a $300.00 notebook computer or a $60,000.00 a year employee, plus miscellaneous taxes, retirement, health insurance, etc,?
If you have a large company, one $10,000.00 server could replace thousands of employees.
Would anyone out there like to mow my lawn for $5.00 a month?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Sep 04, 2014
Robot is not free.

Once robots construct robots they effectively are (and why would we use them to do everything else but construct robots?)
blobby
5 / 5 (3) Sep 04, 2014
Damn those Robots coming over here and stealing our jobs and using up our resources
Jixo
3 / 5 (2) Sep 04, 2014
Also the voting bots steal the well deserved work for us.
Shootist
4 / 5 (4) Sep 06, 2014
Robots unlikely to take big bites out of employment, expert says


And the internal combustion engine will never replace the horse.
thixotropic
5 / 5 (4) Sep 06, 2014
Of course automation kills jobs! THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR. To reduce labor costs.

What an incredibly misleading headline.
Returners
1 / 5 (4) Sep 06, 2014
Whenever someone talks about how "we'll be OK because robots will never be able to do THIS", I just lean back in my chair and laugh.


He isn't even right about construction.

3-D printers are now being made in China which are capable of printing an entire house (or small office building), which means bye bye blue collar jobs.

When 3-d printing technology reaches fruition, you won't need welders, pipe fitters, carpenters, cement finishers, or very nearly anybody to do any of these tasks or similar tasks.

You won't need humans to make robots, and you won't need conventional robots to make other robots either.

Self-driving automobiles being developed by Google will displace hundreds of thousands of professional drivers in the U.S. alone; millions and millions world-wide.

If currency were digitized and defined in terms of energy, most paper work would be unnecessary and most people doing paperwork jobs would be unnecessary, and stock markets would actually be more stable.
Returners
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 06, 2014
There are some apparently limiting factors, but even those may not be true limits.

Q: If nobody has a job, who will be buying products. The companies will go out of business, right?

A: Wrong. Who said you had to be selling anything to accumulate wealth? The "owners" will live like KINGS while their robot servants work in mines and make machines, and new body parts/organs for them. If you own the land, you own the technology, and you own the labor force (which is one and the same as the technology) you haven't violated any laws (13-15 amendment), but you get all the benefits of slavery...and none of the drawbacks. Employees don't rebel, or ask for raises when they are robots.

Q: Starving masses may rebel.

A: but robot soldiers will make short work of most of them. There'll be enough sell-outs, given the 80-20 rule, for the "owners" to stay in power, regardless.

Sure, sure, there WILL be some mechanism which will prevent complete Dystopia, but who can say when/where it kicks in?
Returners
1 / 5 (4) Sep 06, 2014
Robots unlikely to take big bites out of employment, expert says


And the internal combustion engine will never replace the horse.


Author fails to realize that present day economies are actually driven by over-consumption based on promotion of new products. If technology stagnates AFTER 3-d printing, then there are fewer new products, which means fewer new jobs, for the few remaining products requiring human beings.

Perhaps humans will work in medical field, entirely, but that seems unlikely. In fact that would be unsafe, because it would make it easier for viruses and bacteria to be transmitted, since even more people would work in proximity to the sick and dying, thus increasing the likelihood of the pathogens spreading, etc.

It's been known for quite some time that copper kills bacteria, including experiments in the past several years showing massive effectiveness. Where is the copper plated doorknobs in hospitals?

$10 per pound is cheap compared to meds...
Returners
1.8 / 5 (4) Sep 06, 2014
When world population reaches 9-10 billion or so, we'll have issues feeding everyone. Fisheries are already regulated, but nations like China are known by the international community to be over-fishing anyway. Who can blame them for eating though. Gotta feed the billions of people somehow.

One self-regulating mechanism is education, smart people tend to have fewer children. Another regulating factor is food itself, resources on the planet are finite, regardless of technology level, and that means food supplies have a maximum limit. this in turn means food prices will always go up in the long term, in spite of technology increases, which means the cost of living will eventually increase and become a limiting factor to population growth.

This means "excesses" decrease, which means economies shrink, which means....fewer jobs.

Maybe we'll just pay one another to sit around thinking, or sit around thinking about thinking.

Think about that... oh yeah, somebody else already has...
Rustybolts
1 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2014
How much money did professor David Hummels receive to combat this viral video. Robots already took a major chunk of employment away from humans and you would have to be a complete moron to believe they wont keep taking more. Employers that have robots now LOVE THEM!
Returners
1 / 5 (3) Sep 07, 2014
You know - rather than pander to the feelings of the parents I would have thought it more important that the child IS going to be OK.
If a machine doctor can do that even minimally better than a human one then, as a good parent, I'd say "screw my parental feelings - cure my child metal man".


For people with "mystery diseases" a machine doctor would actually do it's job, and test for all possibilities, whilst a biased, human doctor only checks for a few things, gets bored, and says, "Gosh I don't know.....Oh here's the bill, have a nice day."

Returners
1 / 5 (3) Sep 07, 2014
The average wealth of each individual may be calculated by a simple equation, I should think, as a fraction of the value of the planet.

w = (t*e*E/p) - (T*e*E/L)

w is average wealth.
t is technology
e is efficiency
E is available energy
p is population
L is the number of lunatics, such as terrorists and other warmongers(and their followers).
Uncle Ira
5 / 5 (1) Sep 07, 2014
For people with "mystery diseases" a machine doctor would actually do it's job, and test for all possibilities, whilst a biased, human doctor only checks for a few things, gets bored, and says, "Gosh I don't know.....Oh here's the bill, have a nice day."


@ Returnering-Skippy. You do not have to worry for the robot taking your job no.

Because first you got to have the job which you do not.

And because second if the robot start doing like you do, they would probably take to the institution for the peoples with mental conditions over in Mandeville or the one up in Shreveport or the one up in Jackson to work on him or take him apart.

So before you think about coming down here to Louisiana you should make sure to take your medicines and not talk enough to be noticed Cher. In Texas they let you get away with a lot of crazy foolishment that is not allowed here.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2014
For people with "mystery diseases" a machine doctor would actually do it's job, and test for all possibilities, whilst a biased, human doctor only checks
Careful QC - a machine would be less apt to be fooled by your hypochondria.

Here's evidence we are being guided toward automation:

"Hundreds of Fast-Food Workers Striking for Higher Wages Are Arrested... Restaurant industry backers warn that a sharp rise in wages would be counterproductive, increasing the appeal of automation and putting more workers at risk of job loss."

-And we can surmise that healthcare reform will enable the introduction of AI in diagnosis and treatment. I would much rather be diagnosed by a machine using universally accepted protocols, constantly updated, and with unwavering attention.
kochevnik
5 / 5 (1) Sep 07, 2014
And we can surmise that healthcare reform will enable the introduction of AI in diagnosis and treatment. I would much rather be diagnosed by a machine using universally accepted protocols, constantly updated, and with unwavering attention.
An AI usually incorporates limited information and gives outdated results. Also it can't adapt quickly to new events. So I would say no. I would choose a human, then google, then a machine
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2014
And we can surmise that healthcare reform will enable the introduction of AI in diagnosis and treatment. I would much rather be diagnosed by a machine using universally accepted protocols, constantly updated, and with unwavering attention.
An AI usually incorporates limited information and gives outdated results. Also it can't adapt quickly to new events. So I would say no. I would choose a human, then google, then a machine
Thats today. Tomorrow will be different. At least on this side of the iron curtain.
Newbeak
not rated yet Sep 07, 2014
I am half way through The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism,by Jeremy Rifkin. According to him,IT and robotics will transform Capitalism,or should I say kill it.

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