Will You Be Replaced?

Chinese artificial intelligence pioneer and venture capitalist Kai Fu Lee is predicting that 40% of the world’s jobs will be displaceable over the next 15 years. Displaceable rather than displaced since even he can’t foresee how fast the displacement will occur. But if we are paying any attention at all to what is happening around us daily, we must realize it’s likely coming fast. Lee isn’t counting the jobs already filled by robots instead of people.  Remember the days when automobile plants used to employ 15,000? This process has been going on a long time.

Lee also isn’t talking just about blue collar jobs. There are lots of white collar jobs at risk too. As you go places, take a close look at the jobs people are doing and think about which ones are ripe for replacement. Then think about how fast AI technology is racing forward.  

There’s an interesting example of this in Tokyo. For those of you who have never been to Tokyo, I can tell you that it is home to an exceedingly complex, incomprehensible collection of train stations and trains. ARISA to the rescue! Just in time for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Summer Games.

ARISA, a 6-foot tall humanoid robot receptionist, is being deployed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government throughout the subway system. She is a wide-eyed, sharply dressed lady who can speak a number of languages. She and her numerous clones will be  guiding visitors to restrooms, offering directions, and even recommending interesting places to visit in the area. I have no idea how many human guides would be required to do the work these ladies are doing, but it would certainly be a large number. Did I mention ARISTA is happy to work 24/7 and has no need for a restroom break?

Which of you will ARISTA and her sisters and brothers replace?

The implications are immense and many of them are negative. What will the millions of people who earn their living driving and doing similar jobs do? And what impact will all these jobless people have on the economy? What will happen to all the stores they patronize? ARISA and her family do not buy things at the market.

There are good implications as well. Robots can take over dangerous jobs such as cleaning out sewer mains that get clogged or going into highly radioactive places such as old uranium works being dismantled.

And there are implications that are hard to evaluate. Is it good or bad that there will be many more technology billionaires selling robots and AI?

What will happen to your company if you can’t afford to keep up in the AI race?

I don’t have a solution for you, but I do have a suggestion. If you aren’t fully evaluating everything you and your company do that may be automated via AI or robots…wake up. The future is racing forward and it’s going to roll right over you if you’re not prepared. Technology has almost killed off taxi drivers. Now it’s going after Uber and Lyft drivers. And chefs! Sooner or later it’s coming after you and your business.

How soon will it come knocking on your door?  Just this minute I read that Giant Food Stores is hiring 172 Martys for its stores. They will wander the aisles checking inventory, looking for spills and other dangerous situations, making sure pricing is correct, and performing similar tasks. They are tall and green, with googly eyes, and they beep to warn you when they are close by so they don’t run over you. Marty is Gumby come alive. Giant claims that they will support their staff and not replace anyone. We’ll see if this is still true in a year or two…

As for me, I hear ARISA calling from the other room. Seems she’s opened a nice bottle of wine and poured me a glass.

Commenting area

  1. The best part Steve is that she won’t drink half of the bottle either.

    Now can she do EOS?

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