Labor

8 Ways Robots Are Taking Over Our Jobs and Our World

What will happen to workers if automation catches on in any of these areas?

One of the next great challenges American workers are starting to face is the increasing automation of jobs that previously could only be done by a living, breathing human being. Here are eight jobs that robots are taking over as they take over the world:

  1. Chef: In Shanghai this month, visitors at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia were able to have meals cooked by an entire robotic kitchen. London's Moley Robotics designed the kitchen, which features two robot arms that will cook a variety of dishes for you as you select from an iTunes-style menu of items.

  2. Cleaner: Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are refining algorithms designed to help robots tell the difference between trash and other goods in your home, which could form the basis for programming robots to do our cleaning.

  3. Traffic cop: The Congo has started to use “solar-powered aluminum robots” to direct traffic. The robots are able to rotate, and they have surveillance cameras so they can send images to local police stations.

  4. Bartender: The company Somabar is creating a robot bartender that can make you any drink you choose. You would even be able to give it orders via wi-fi from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

  5. Hospital sanitizer: A robot in a hospital in Sharon, Pennsylvania is using an ultraviolet light to destroy bacteria and viruses that could make patients sick. It should be pointed out that the robot does this job after standard cleaning procedures have been completed.

  6. Surgeon: A number of hospitals have started using robotic surgery. Several hospitals in Nevada are using a robot called Xi that results in “smaller incisions, less blood loss, fewer complications and shorter recovery periods.”

  7. Bellhop: A Silicon Valley company is designing a robot bellhop. Called the Botlr, it's a “cylindrical machine on wheels, with a basin and a lid on top. It can hold standard room service items like toiletries, water bottles, and newspapers, and find it own way to hotel rooms. It can even ride the elevator.”

  8. Camel jockey: The storied Arab tradition of camel racing now has a technological twist, as robots are increasingly playing the role of jockeys. The robots are controlled by racers, who follow the camels in their own vehicles, as a form of almost remote-controlled racing.

One big question posed by all this is, what will happen to the workers who currently do these jobs if automation catches on in any of these areas?

The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner says we shouldn't fear the coming of robots. He points to the 1930s, when there was “an automatic scare, and many economists blamed the high unemployment of that era on machines taking human jobs. John Maynard Keynes pointed out that the problem wasn't machines; it was depressed purchasing power. The World War II boom proved his point. Massive public investment during the war invented and subsidized new automated technologies, but it produced even more public work.”

That seems to get at the crux of the matter: robots are only a threat if we don't have an economic policy designed to produce the demand to create new jobs. It's not the automation, it's the policy.

Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.

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