Events / Professional development / Robotics

Robots and the future of work

Will artificial intelligence make your job obsolete? A Northside Festival panel of three robot-minded experts weighs in.

Members of "The Robots Are Not Taking Over" panel, left to right: David Rose, Robbie Allen, Michael Solana and moderator Melanie McShane. (Photo by Gregoire Molle)

Robots: They’re designed to make life easier but they usually end up making people wonder if their jobs are at risk.
A discussion of how robots are changing our lives took center stage last Thursday during the innovation track of the Northside Festival. The title of the panel, however, was somewhat of a spoiler: “The Robots Are Not Taking Over.”
(That said, the event’s description blurb was a little more ambivalent: “The next wave of automation is driving innovation: transforming how we work, what we learn and the public spaces we play in. So yes, the robots are taking over, but they’re not TAKING OVER. In our machine filled future, where both mankind and robots can and will peacefully coexist, we’d like to explore whether we have the space to be more human or less?”)
The conversation featured a trio of robot-minded humans: Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights, a platform that automatically generates stories from data; David Rose, CEO of Ditto Labs, a company developing image recognition technology; and Michael Solana, community director at Founders Fund, a venture capital firm that works to support technological developments.

For her last question, moderator Melanie McShane of brand consultancy Wolff Olins asked for each panelist’s plans “for when your jobs become obsolete.”
It seems two of them have indeed thought about this possibility.
Solana said he would focus on writing — he’s already published a book, Citizen Sim: Cradle of the Stars. For Allen, starting a company is a way to have a job for a while, at least. Only Rose, who’s also a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, remained silent.
A few minutes later, though, once the panel discussion had finished, he came to an answer.
“Aspects of our jobs, hopefully, are constantly in transition,” Rose said. “The people who are smartly engaging with new technologies are, you know, sort of reinventing what they do every day.”
Robots can solve mathematical problems increasingly faster, but “the computer still doesn’t want anything,” Solana said, implying humans are still in control.
Still, robots are taking some of our jobs. An Oxford study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimates that about 47 percent of American jobs are highly at risk of being done by computerized robots by 2030.
“I think we’re gonna replace a lot of jobs that nobody wants,” Solana said. The most at risk are low-skilled workers, Frey and Osborne write in their study. To remain employed, Frey and Osborne expect these workers to reallocate to “tasks requiring creative and social intelligence.”

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