Phase 1: Machines Replacing Humans

// Posted by on 04/21/2014 (3:25 PM)

So far this semester we have explored the many different effects of the growth of technology on our world. We have become a “digital America” in which people rely on various different machines and technologies to complete daily tasks. In class we have addressed what lead us here and what the consequences have been so far of growing  reliance on technology. Our discussions about high frequency trading made me curious about the fast pace world we live in, and why we are so readily allowing machines to be responsible for so many actions. My project will focus on the increasing role of technology in our world and how it is stifling the roles of humans as the use of machines invades every sector of the global economy.

My project consists of an assessment of our present condition (explaining how we use these machines now) and my projections for the future based on my research. I intend to explore the physical, mental, and emotional capabilities that robots and machines have, and to consider both points of view put forth by experts. In many stores we no longer look to humans when paying, but rather we scan items ourselves and a machine spits out our change and a receipt. Our smart-phones speak to us and take commands from us through Siri. When you enter a retail store you might be helped by a kiosk rather than a real person. Vacuum cleaners operate themselves to clean our houses. Our cars can even park themselves. So what will happen next?

Many of our class presentations addressed the use of technology in ways we never thought possible. The use of robots and machines is becoming more and more a part of society, and it has become clear that they will soon be able to complete more human actions than we ever though possible. Things like drones (sailing and flying) and computer operations systems that talk are things that I never expected to see in my lifetime.

By 2013, there were already over a million robots in the industrial workforce. Why? They don’t require an hourly wage, their quality of work is consistent, and they don’t get bored. Technological innovations have left many of us wondering about what the capabilities of these robots will be as they start growing in numbers. My research has lead be to believe that in as little as 10 years it is possible that robots and machines will have invaded the job markets of pharmacists, doctors, soldiers, drivers, store clerks, pilots, and more. What they lack in social intelligence they make up for in efficiency and productivity.

In 2014 we face a future that could go two ways, depending on how we receive new technologies in the next few years. Many experts say that if we refuse to except how quickly human-like technologies are pushing into the workforce, many of us could be left jobless. We need to learn to work side-by-side with these intricate technologies and attempt to keep up. Many blue collar jobs have already been handed over to machines and it appears today that we benefit from not having to employ people to perform the most basic tasks that a machine could do. But robots can acquire smarts, and those that are programmed a certain way pose a threat to society: they could potentially push even white-collar employees out of the workforce.

Robots and automated machines have become more and more capable of completing human actions, and my project explores the conflicting views that experts have on how much they might be able to do in the future. Using various media and research articles, I explain the practicality that these machines might offer us– many people think that this will help American society and the job market rather than hurt it. On the other hand, I also explore conflicting views of experts. While some pro-tech authors from Wired might think that this could help society, others believe that automated machines will take jobs from real people causing unemployment to skyrocket and our economy to plummet.

A Ted Talk on this topic:


What I have explored so far:

- our current state, what things they can do in 2014

- projections for the future, jobs that robots could potentially take, what fields will they invade, who could be effected

- how we might (be forced to) work together

What I will explore in phase 2:

- emotions, can robots have human qualities?, can they acquire social capabilities?

- what should we do? how our generation and the one after us might have to be more creative

- seeking alternate jobs, what can we do that robots can’t?


Questions for the class:

1. Do you think you would feel comfortable working side by side with a machine (as many expert’s predictions say we will have to in the near future)?

2. What types of “creative” jobs might you seek if robots enter the job market and limit your employment opportunities?

3. Do you trust these machines? (drones, electronic servers, surgical machines)

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Rachel said...

Deirdre: I love the direction you’re going in for Phase 2. It’s entirely fictional, but there’s a short story about your first Phase 2 question that might raise some interesting thoughts on whether machines can have feelings or social capabilities.

The story is called “Epicac” and it’s written by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s about a super-computer that falls in love.

Whether you think machines could eventually acquire emotions and whether you think that would be a good thing or a bad thing are interesting questions that get at our very nature as humans.

// 04/21/2014 at 8:07 pm

Piper said...

In my FYS class freshman year, called the Alphabet of Human Thought, we talked a lot about robots and if they could have ‘human qualities.’ You should look at the history of the Turing Test ( Also, this article came out a few days ago that might be interesting to note

// 04/24/2014 at 1:51 am

Kevin said...

1. My answer is yes, but I believe that we already do work side by side with machines. I rely heavily on my computer, iPad, and iPhone everyday to accomplish important tasks. Granted, I understand that these devices do not possess the level of artificial intelligence attributed to some of the robots you’ve discussed below, but I still believe I have a clear working relationship with these “robots.” So, I feel comfortable with it as of now, but I do not believe that I would be comfortable working with a robot that makes business decisions without me telling it to do so.

2. I would seek for positions that rely on human connection. Meaning, I would look for a job where communication is central. I understand that robots will have increased levels of artificial intelligence down the line, but I still believe that humans will crave legitimate personal interaction when making more intimate decisions. For example, I believe that within the sales industry, we will always rely on humans. Mostly because individuals will not want to purchase something without hearing from a human being what the personal benefit of the product will be. However, it does seem that most manual labor positions would be replaced by robots.

3. I do trust machines because I believe that a machine can never be smarter than its creator. No matter how much artificial intelligence a machine possesses, I believe that it will always be able to be controlled by the individual that figured out how to give it that level of intelligence. Thus, I trust machines, but with that being said, I would not want a machine to make decisions for me. In other words, I trust machines to do tasks without messing the project up, but I will always prefer to make my own decisions as opposed to defaulting to a machines suggestion.

// 04/24/2014 at 11:54 am

Eliza said...

1. Do you think you would feel comfortable working side by side with a machine (as many expert’s predictions say we will have to in the near future)?
- No, I do not think I will ever be comfortable with doing that. No matter how many hours are put into making sure that machine is perfect, no one will ever know if the codes will suddenly glitch and the machine freaks out. I guess you could make the argument, a machine could be more trustworthy than a human in todays world, however a machine is nothing more than wires put together. There is no beating heart, or physical body. For me, working next to a machine would freak me out.

2. What types of “creative” jobs might you seek if robots enter the job market and limit your employment opportunities?

- I have no idea honestly, I have never given it much thought. But I would probably seek a job that has no robot intervention.

3. Do you trust these machines? (drones, electronic servers, surgical machines)
- No, but then again I am not knowledgeable on them as most people.

// 04/26/2014 at 12:08 pm

Cora said...

1. I think it would be an interesting experience to work side-by-side with a machine…I think I would feel a little discouraged and odd about a robot being used to fulfill the same tasks I was– but if the robot was efficient, I guess it would be helpful. I would also be a bit nervous working next to a machine…if something were to malfunction who knows what could happen!

2. I guess one would have to head more in a direction where analytical and critical thinking was involved…depending on how advanced a robot’s intelligent is, their presence has the potential to limit a much wider range in the employment field.

3. I don’t think I would ever be able to trust a machine 100%. Maybe to fulfill simple tasks such as taking out the garbage or washing dishes– but a surgical procedure? No way. I would never put my life in the hands of a robot.

// 04/26/2014 at 6:57 pm

Claire said...

1. I think it depends on the capacity of working with a machine. If I were doing an automated process and the machine was working with me I feel I would be a lot more comfortable with that then idea generation. I don’t think there will be any point in my life time where we will consider machines peers and consider their ideas in any capacity on the same level as our own. I also feel that the work place I am entering is largely idea based so that might skewed my judgement for working with machines.
2. I feel the job I am entering into now, management consulting coupled with sales, is something robots would have a hard time entering into and doing. I never planned to do a job in a non-creative aspect.
3. I trust them to some extent. I feel even today we are not aware of how many machines are involved in surgeries even today. We rely on them in that respect even now. I don’t think I would ever be comfortable having machine operate on me with out a human present though. In respect to electronic servers with electronics there is always room for failure and that is always a risk you have to weigh when putting all of your systems on a server.

// 04/28/2014 at 12:47 pm