In the past 50 years, technology has advanced exponentially. Our children’s world is now defined by smartphones and the internet. By the time today’s children are ready to enter the job market, the landscape will be very different. Already, robotics and technology are changing the face of not only manufacturing but also, the service industry and the medical field. Many of the jobs are dangerous and better done by robots. However, after doing a little research on things engineers are designing robots to do, I have realized that there are tasks I really just want a human to do.
Dangerous, Dirty Jobs
First, let’s talk about some of the tasks that we are grateful robots and technology are able to perform. From a strictly human point of view, the best thing about technology is its ability to do those jobs that are too dangerous for humans to do. These jobs include the bomb squad robots, astronaut robots, soldiers, and mine explorers. These are all jobs where having a human remotely guide technology to complete tasks can save lives. In this vein, technology is even replacing the dog in some dangerous jobs. Ground penetrating radar has been proven to be more effective at finding land mines than dogs and the military is working on technology that will sniff out bombs just like dogs do.
Another category of jobs that technology is replacing are the dirty, unpleasant jobs that most people don’t really want. Things like cleaning and inspecting sewer lines, scrubbing the floor around toilets, and many of the repetitive, boring manufacturing jobs, such as heavy lifting on automotive assembly lines.
There are also instances of robots that assist skilled humans. This is especially true in the healthcare industry. Examples include a surgical robot that is able to make smaller, more precise incisions and more easily access problem areas but is always directed by a surgeon. Other advances in the medical field include blood nanobots (one of the top five advances in robotics), and exoskeletons that help paraplegics walk.
However, I am not convinced with the pharmacist robot. Admittedly, they are very capable of dispensing the correct drug and checking for interactions with other drugs listed in the patient record. However, what if the doctor did not correctly input the drug name, or it is a new drug and a specific interaction is not yet in the system? A human pharmacist might not catch either of these problems, but she is more likely to question it and provide caution than a robot. A patient can also ask questions about his medicine and be more likely to get an answer they understand from a human pharmacist.
There are other jobs that robots are being programmed for that, as a consumer, I’m not sure I want a robot to do, even if they “do it as well or better” than a human.These include the robot bartender, driver, store clerk, lawyer and paralegal, and journalist. They actually have robots programmed for and currently providing these services. I can understand their uses in specific areas of these jobs. For example, if I am just making a deposit, checking a balance, or withdrawing money, I will almost always go to the ATM instead of inside the bank to a teller. However, if I have a question or problem with my account, I want to interface with a human.
In the law profession, they are using technology to search through reams of documents for specific facts. Computer recognition software can do this task quickly, with fewer breaks, and in many cases without missing any that a human might. However, if I am looking for a problem area of a contract, something that might sound innocuous, but still favor the other party, I want a human reading my document.
And a bartender? I am sure that a robot will mix the drink perfectly to the programmed recipe. However, what if I like my martini extra dirty, or my margarita with salt on only half the rim, or any other millions of variations? Anybody who has spent any time in a bar knows, some bartenders get your drink just perfect. Plus, he knows me. He asks how my boss is treating me, and if I still love my new car. A robot cannot replace that level of service and personal interaction.
For me, one of the most problematic uses of robot technology is the automated car. I think we can all agree, there are times when people should not drive, such as when they have been drinking. However, there are other tech alternatives such as interlock devices and portable breathalyzers that don’t seem as scary as driverless automobiles. I’m not ready to trust such a complex task as driving to someone else’s programming skills. When you consider all the variables of driving and then try to account for the unpredictable actions of the human-driven cars, it is a complex programming and computational problem. I am not ready to trust that a computer can successfully overcome both issues.
I love technology. However, when we start looking at replacing sentient beings, it becomes a different discussion. When do you allow the machine to make decisions that can affect your life? When is it appropriate for a machine to provide a service and eliminate the human interaction aspect? Whether we like it or not, these situations and questions will need answers, soon.