Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
AI Robotics Hardware

Robot Workforce Threatens Education-Intensive Jobs 496

An anonymous reader writes "For years, robots have been replacing workers in factories as technology has come to grips with high-volume, unskilled labor. An article in Slate makes the case that the robot workforce is poised to move into fields that require significantly more training and education. From the article: 'In the next decade, we'll see machines barge into areas of the economy that we'd never suspected possible — they'll be diagnosing your diseases, dispensing your medicine, handling your lawsuits, making fundamental scientific discoveries, and even writing stories just like this one. Economic theory holds that as these industries are revolutionized by technology, prices for their services will decline, and society as a whole will benefit. As I conducted my research, I found this argument convincing — robotic lawyers, for instance, will bring cheap legal services to the masses who can't afford lawyers today. But there's a dark side, too: Imagine you've spent three years in law school, two more years clerking, and the last decade trying to make partner — and now here comes a machine that can do much of your $400-per-hour job faster, and for a fraction of the cost. What do you do now?'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Robot Workforce Threatens Education-Intensive Jobs

Comments Filter:
  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @06:19PM (#37520894)

    The problem is that in order for that to work, there needs to be some guarantees that people will still be able to feed themselves. It doesn't matter whether there's a huge mountain of food on the neighbors table and if all the work is being done by robots if you're starving.

    In the US we've chosen to subscribe to the radical notion that the poor deserve to be poor because clearly it's less work to work two jobs for minimum wage than to work one that pays substantially more.

  • Ah, naivety (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @06:22PM (#37520936)

    First, at the high end, I suspect that a $ 400 per hour lawyer with a robot assistant would run rings around a robot lawyer, and that that would be true regardless of the quality of the robot lawyer (as the $ 400 / hour guy would be able to afford a robot assistant of the same quality.

    Second, there is something that is not being broached here - who benefits from this ? And what determines that ? Suppose that robots could do all jobs. So, what, everyone, being unemployed, just sits in the dark and starves ? Or, everyone except a few robot owners sits in the dark and starves ? And, how, exactly, would those starving people afford the goods and services being turned out by the robots ? Believing that would happen is naive in the extreme. Doesn't mean what will happen is necessarily going to be good, but it will be different.

  • Re:Well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @06:32PM (#37521022)

    Some $400 per hour jobs have that salary becuase it is that difficult to do and requires an exceptional person to be able to perform it. Others pay that much because while easy enough, no-one wants to do that job so it is offered with a stupendous salary to make it more attractive.

    A few examples of highly paid jobs that could be done by just about anyone with a little training:
    - Mine Removal - sure there is training, but the majority of the pay is for the danger, not the expertise required to do the job.
    - Drug Running - Okay, not an official job title no doubt, but drug trafficers are payed loads of money to do a really simple job. It is just risky as buggery.

    Other highly paid jobs such as working on an Oil Platform or in a Mining Pit may not require a huge range of training and experience, but due to location you might well be apart from friends and family for weeks on end. Recently in Australia there has been a bit of a mining boom in Western Australia. The mining companies are paying insane salaries just to entice people to go work in the middle of the Australian desert.

    If your $400 hour job falls into the second bracket and there is indeed now a robot that can do the job, tough luck. Find something else that no-one wants to do :)

  • Re:sue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rabtech ( 223758 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @06:33PM (#37521034) Homepage

    Nah, they will move the lawyer jobs to India, then to China, then to some island country....

    Whoops, it is already happening. Doctors on India are viewing your x-rays and diagnosing your issues. (I know this to be true because I helped set it up.)
    But anyways, just look at low paying unskilled jobs now.... robots did not take over like the article seems to indicate, nope... instead they went to China, where you work in a building and rent a refrigerator box in another from the same company you work for. It is still cheaper than robots.

    This is only true while labor is really cheap. There are a huge number of goods you can make in the US or China at basically the same cost but in China you pay pennies to manual laborers, in the US you program robots to do it. That is happening in China right now as Foxconn is investing in robots due to rises in Chinese labor rates.

    Granted there are some new jobs overseeing the robots, programming them, etc but overall the number of warm bodies required per unit of economic output will continue to go down over time.

    We will eventually need to shift to a shorter work-week for the same relative pay or we'll need to find new areas for expansion in space. The alternative is to jump back to feudalism prior to the black death when labor was cheap and most people worked as serfs barely scratching out a living. I would point out that the black death brought about a huge increase in labor mobility as there weren't enough hands to till the fields; people migrated (including illegally) to work for new lords that offered better benefits and pay. I really hope we can avoid that fate this time around (massive death via war or disease required to change the status quo).

  • Re:sue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @06:51PM (#37521194)

    I read some of the article and it appears to be a futurist's ramblings on what s/he thinks robots will do, of course they will go terminator style eventually and kill us all, etc..

    1. Please please replace my IT job with a robot, I would love to see it fail, and do nothing about it.
    2. The concept of AI is beyond the scope of this article, but I believe the consensus is that it is not truelly achievable meaning... robots will never be able to: emotionally reason, have consciousness, or reproduce short of a factory.

    I wouldn't hire a robot lawyer... what if the DA is plea bargaining, what if a bit of social engineering is required? : robotic processor overload.

    All in all, I don't feel threatened, if they could take the fast food jobs, then HMMM :)

  • Re:sue (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @06:58PM (#37521254)

    Doctors on India are viewing your x-rays and diagnosing your issues. (I know this to be true because I helped set it up.)

    A few years ago there was a kerfuffle about the transcribing of patient records being outsourced to India (or somewhere) because (I believe) that it broke some regulations about patient confidentiality etc. So how does your system hold up under a regulatory eye, and what protections do the patients have under malpractice etc (assuming that they even know their records are going offshore). Are these doctors in India considered staff of the medical clinic? Or have the clinics using your system washed their collective hands of the issue?
    I'm not implying that doctors in India are bad, just that patients expect their doctors to be working under the regulatory guidelines of where the clinic is located.

  • who wants to work? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @07:39PM (#37521578)

    I'm always amazed at these job discussion.
    Who wants to work 8 hours a day every week?

    Even today, everywhere you turn it is jobs jobs jobs. Obama rants about jobs. Republicans rant about jobs. Meanwhile, all the people with jobs are stressed out from all the work they have to do.

    And of course, there's all the 'educated' people. The biggest problem with these people is they were all raised thinking they were special. They're 'entitled' to a high standard of living.

    It's why society has created all these legal and financial jobs. They do nothing productive or useful for society. Many would argue they even hurt society. Yet, they are these because 'educated' people deserve good jobs.

    The poor textile worker who made clothing for people... screw them.... outsource to China. Farm workers... hah... we won't even let our welfare folks work on the farm.

    The solution to all this... and the economic collapse we're experiencing... is the following:
    less work
    more work sharing

    Whether socialism or the free market, the tendency is going to be to a more egalitarian society. In terms of producing things people value, there is little that differentiates people. I can do a job. You can do a job. A computer can do a job.

    Sure, there will be a small percentage of 'super experts' who will still be able to out do anyone else.... but they are a small number.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer