Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry

I can't remember who shared this article, but I found it interesting.

However, I think it may be gravely mistaken. Certainly I'd agree those jobs won't get replaced in the short term, but I think technology will fundamentally change them sooner than you might think.

Let's take them one by one.

1. Childcare Expert

Sure, a robot might not be able to interact with a child like a human (yet), but we've all heard stories of the carer who was napping the job, or worse. One thing a machine can do is ensure your child is watched every second you are away. And the human carer for that matter. But they can also do other things. Toys are getting smarter and smarter, and the teddy that can interact with your child, and alert the human carer when personal attention is needed will be a valuable assistant. How much time do carers spend on mundane tasks like changing nappies? If a robot comes along that can handle that, why not free up the carer's time for proper interaction with the children? Of course the thing that will sell this to parents is the ability to log in and check on the child (and carer) at any time.

2. Chef

Maybe the cordon bleu chef is safe, but how much skill does it take to flip burgers for McDonalds? Fast food restaurants will see greater and greater automation. We're already seeing self service ordering terminals, and it's likely we'll see food preparation follow suit. In classier restaurants, we may still need chefs, but how long will we need commi chefs chopping carrots if a chopping robot can do it faster and more safely? This is only the first step, and as more and more jobs get automated, we may eventually see world class food prepared with no human interaction at all.

3. Tour Guide

We already have "robot" tour guides of a sort. Watch people walking around a museum or sitting on a tour bus wearing headphones for examples. Sure, it may not be up to the standards of a live guide, but it offers advantages such as a choice of languages, and the ability to skip bits you don't find interesting. Future generations of digital tour guide will offer the ability to tune the tour exactly to our interests, and dynamically add more detail when we look interested, and push on when we look bored. It may never be as good as a great human guide, but it will sure as hell be better than a bad one.

4. Journalist

I'm sure the author of this piece smugly thinks his or her job is safe. There are already armies of robots trawling the web for potential interesting stories and writing automated stories that are surprisingly hard to tell from human written stories. That's not the same as hard nosed investigative journalism, but it's a start that will only get more advanced. I think that no journalist could do their job these days without internet searches, and it's the ability of computers to find connections hidden in vast database that will be relied on more and more by future journalists. On the other end, the need to rush a story out in time for the morning edition will see more and more resilience on automated writing tools, As both of these capabilities get more advanced, the only thing left for the journalist to do is ask the right question. When pieces that used to take weeks of digging can be produced in an afternoon, newspapers will need a lot less staff, and those who are left will be wondering "how long till someone comes up with a computer that's good at asking questions?"

5. Artist

I doubt most artists consider their work "a job", and so there are likely to be humans producing works of art as long as there are humans. In 2008, a Russian novel, "True Love", was published. It was completely computer written, although the computer was guided by a team of experts. Robots have also painted and written poetry. It mightn't be to the standard of human artists, but there plenty of markets where this won't matter. Mills & Boon novels, for example?

6. Doctor

Another one where humans aren't going away any time soon. However, there's no doubt that machines are intruding into the traditional doctor space, and doing things that no human could do. For example, doctors can't be there to monitor our vitals 24/7. I wear a device on my wrist that constantly monitors my heart rate for tracking fitness. In the future this is likely to add more functionality, and monitor our health, pre-emptively telling us when we are unwell before our symptoms are even apparent, and taking appropriate measures to cure us before we even feel sick. For the most part this will happen in conjunction with doctors rather than instead of them, and will be generally a good thing as Doctors are freed from treating colds and flues to concentrate on really challenging work.

I don't think any of these jobs are going to disappear overnight, but I don't think any of them are completely safe from robots.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 28th, 2016 11:25 am (UTC)
Let me pick some holes:

1. Childcare: er, nope. Look at the "changing a nappy" problem from a comp. sci. perspective and you realise that it's one of the HARD problems in AI. You've got vision -- recognizing the different bits of the baby and tracking them in real time (babies don't stay still and they change shape). You've got chemotaxis -- establishing when the nappy needs changing (as opposed to, baby just farted). You've got proprioception: your nappy-changing robot needs to be able to fold soft structures (nappies) in three dimensions around another structure of variable texture which is extremely pressure and temperature sensitive and can be damaged trivially easily. Worse: it's not just snipping away a soiled nappy and applying a new one -- you've got to clean the baby's bottom (a moving three-dimensional surface), you've got to apply any necessary ointments, baby powder, oil, or medication, and you've got to do this all without hurting or irritating the baby.

My take is that nappy changing is basically an "AI complete" problem -- if you can make a robot that can change a nappy, you've cracked most of the hard problems in interaction with human beings. (You can't lie to a baby by having a set of canned textual interaction scripts like Siri -- it's all about touch, vision, smell, and so on.)

Oh, and don't get me started on having robots teach babies useful stuff, like how to speak, or how to smile, or how to walk.

2. Chef: well, maybe. But McDonalds is already largely automated -- the shops are just front-ends for a factory/supply-chain distribution network that has enormous economies of scale because the product is uniform. In effect all they do in the kitchens at McD's is final assembly. Real cooking? Again, that's a hard job to automate -- especially as it's a low-wage/low-margin service role, and it involves quality assurance/hygeine issues (hint: is your robot able to detect the presence of pests, ranging from flies and rats to next door's cat?).

3. Tour guide: maybe. Self-driving buses and canned scripts will get you some distance. But responding to tourists' specific needs jacks up the complexity of the task a huge distance -- especially if it's something like "needs a special diet that they didn't specify when they booked the tour" or "is having a heart attack in the middle of nowhere".

4. "armies of robots trawling the web for potential interesting stories and writing automated stories" -- Politely, this is bullshit. Web scrapers are not "writing" stories, they're summarizing press releases that someone else wrote. While there's some progress in automating typescript output based on transactions in highly ritualized sporting events with well-defined scoring systems, or stock market and weather reports, these are special cases with very tightly constrained problem spaces. As far as the web crawlers go -- all they represent is news outlet owners firing journalists and reprinting whatever advertising bullshit they're fed, with just enough random word salad resequencing to get them off the hook for copyright violation.

5. "True Love" was not the first computer written novel; try "The Policeman's Beard is Half-Constructed", from the late 1980s. As for the evident contempt you have for Mills & Boon (formula romance) novels ... yes, there's a formula: the art comes in how the author runs the variations on it to keep it from becoming boredom. Once you can automate boredom-avoidance, it might be possible to automate the assembly process for some limited formats. But good luck with that: again, it's an AI-complete problem.

6. Doctor: sure, we have diagnostic equipment. We've had diagnostic expert systems since the 1980s, and in limited problem domains they're very helpful. Go too far though and you run into the happy fun intersection of the internet of things, malware propagation, and the medical device support market -- for which, see comp.risks passim.

Jan. 29th, 2016 12:35 pm (UTC)
McDonalds are already using robots in places.

We're all doomed.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

January 2016


Powered by LiveJournal.com