If we have learned anything from Hollywood it’s that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence can ultimately only lead to our destruction. Great minds like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have even gone so far as to warn us of the dangers of artificial intelligence, calling it “potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons”. And yet, for better or worse, we continue down the path of giving more and more responsibility to both robots and the AI that powers them in order to make our lives easier.
NBC News reported today that robots might replace as many as 5 million jobs in the next four years. This is based on a report titled “The Future of Jobs” released by the World Economic Forum (WEF). These job losses will be felt throughout every industry from healthcare to manufacturing and retail. Their assessment highlights the need to prepare the world’s workforce through better training and education.
“To prevent a worst-case scenario — technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality — reskilling and upskilling of today’s workers will be critical,” the authors said. “It is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared.”
WEF is currently meeting in Switzerland with elites from every industry in attendance including Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to Wall Street heavyweights like Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan and many of their discussions will be around the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Major topics include panels on robotic soldiers and warfare but the biggest fear and potential danger that is being discussed is the impact to the world’s middle class.
Many within WEF, such as a team of Oxford researchers and people from Mckinsey and Company, are realizing technology could do more harm than good. Mckinsey and Company estimates that by 2025 as many as 140 million jobs could be automated by technology. The problem the elite face is how to harness the power of technology without putting so many people out of work that it actually stifles demand for the products these new robots are putting out. Stu Eizenstat former official in the U.S State and Treasury Department told Bloomberg News that, “If leaders aren’t careful, we’ll have a revolution that disenfranchises a lot of middle class people and breeds a lot of resentment.”
Like in every revolution there will be winners and losers. Companies that develop robots, however, are already winning. Pepper the robot, sold jointly by Japanese telecom SoftBank Corp. and French robotics manufacturer Aldebaran, sold out seven consecutive months in a row last year within minutes of going on sale.
The robot threat is a genuine concern. Pepper, however does not look threatening it is compact, has a friendly face and is ready to greet and assist you at cruise liners, airports and hotels all over the world.