Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Robotics and AI: more jobs and a more human world?



Much of the western world has operated in a way to saddle itself with large numbers of unemployed people with no prospect of job security or of doing anything that seems really worthwhile. Making money and making sure you enjoy yourself, if possible not at other people's expense, seems to be the ethos of a spiritually arid age.

Whatever our spiritual beliefs or indifference to these it cannot be denied that meaningful work is essential to the well being and balance of most people. It is an important role of a government to steer the country it governs towards an economic structure which generates meaningful jobs and careers. This means encouraging industries and enterprises, state or private, which create value-added products and services i.e. products and services which bring in the money needed to finance social services and investment for the future, and above all, to provide people with lifelong, meaningful employment, either with one organization or a variety of employers, ensuring that adequate training is available.



Here are some schemes which could employ a huge number of people, paying them good wages to do useful work. All are compatible with or driven by the growth in robotics or artificial intelligence.


   
  • Robot ships to clear up the oceans (briefly described in my novel 2077:Knights of Peace).This could provide a great opportunity to generate both IT and heavy engineering work, bringing back to life many a derelict shipyard (e.g. like those on the UK’s northern coast – Tyneside etc.) and creating entirely new ones. This could not only provide worthwhile employment and stimulate local economies but solve the burgeoning problem of microscopic, non-digestible plastic particles entering the marine food chain, including sea birds.


  
  • Roads and pavements, millions of miles of them world-wide, need ripping up and replacing with smooth, high quality surfaces. Consider the market for a machine that stops over a crumbling section of motorway or clearway, say, pulverises the existing material and replaces it with a smooth, tough, durable surface within an hour. The market would be mind boggling and  a boost to the manufacturing industry.


  • Laying of new roads and railways. Again, a robotic machine that could lay down strips of finished road by the mile would have a vast market worldwide. Imagine the sales potential of China and India alone as well as  the investment and employment opportunities for western economies.


  • Footpaths and small roads over mountains, rough terrain and marshland are especially useful in rural and tourist areas. Teams of skilled individuals equipped with robot-based systems could lay these down more efficiently than at present. The market would be enormous in the developing world, allowing small remote communities to share in the growing prosperity of the wider world as well as allowing medical aid to reach them more quickly. Hopefully, food aid would be less in demand as the communities prospered.


  • High tension overhead power cables need repairing rapidly so any robotic help could reduce the down-time. As completely new national grids are installed there will also be a big market for technological assistance in doing this rapidly. Again there would be a boost to employment as new infrastructure is manufactured, installed and maintained.

  • Robotic repair systems for use on sewage pipes, drains, water supply lines, gas pipes and buried cable conduits, especially in metropolitan areas, are already being used but there is no doubt plenty of scope for innovation. The demand for such technology in China and India alone should be enormous. More employment opportunities.


  • Caring for our fellow humans when their physical or mental faculties require this is primarily a personal task, requiring great kindness, skill and dedication by gifted individuals. If robotic devices could be developed to help the carers at a practical level (e.g. fastening buttons or handling soiled clothing) this would allow them to spend more time on personal interaction and transform the nature of care work.                                                                                                                                                                                

  • Drivers displaced by driverless vehicle technology could be trained to help, both practically and at an interpersonal level, infirm or disabled passengers at the start, during and after their journey. Taxi drivers, for instance, often have good interpersonal skills which could be put to good use providing they are not burdened with excessive demands for political correctness or following of petty rules and regulations.                                                                                                                                    
  • Automated telephone menu systems are widely resented because they are inhuman (made more so by pretending to be otherwise), complicated and inflexible. There is a place for these but they need to be kept behind the scenes as well as improved. There will be a need to employ a new version of the switchboard operator able to interpret the customer's needs and match it to the right department and support them if they get disconnected. The operator would in turn need plenty of training and an up-to-date knowledge of the organisation's structure, which in practice changes continually faster than the IT designed to service it. In large companies or departments the operator would need support staff.                                                                                                                              
  • Doctors could be geatly assisted by automated image recognition of X-rays, tomographs, f-NMR scans etc. to identify or eliminate disorders and diseases. If this approach proved very effective it would increase the turnover and complexity of work by medical secretaries and other ancilliary staff while at the same time dealing more effectively with many more patients.                                                                                                  
  • Lawyers could be released to make better use of their talents by employing artificial intelligence to scan routine legal documents. This could lead to more secretaries and other posts requiring interpersonal skills.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • Business services could be aided by artificial intelligence, leading to a simpler, faster, less burdensome process of setting up a small company. This could lead to a growth in self employment and make possible enterprises driven by creative individuals less hampered by paperwork.                                                                                                                                               
  • High street banks are closing local branches and customer counter positions at an alarming rate as automated menu driven customer stations are brought in. It could be that if small businesses (see above) multiply there will be a greater demand for bank staff able to advise them and connect them to the appropriate sources of finance and expertise.

If I can think up a list like this imagine what a dedicated think tank could come up with. So my hope is that readers may pressurise their MPs, senators, congressmen, local government officials, aid agencies and church leaders to move in this direction. Or plant ideas in the minds of existing and potential entrepreneurs, or, even better, start up their own companies to develop and launch such technology or use existing technology more imaginatively.


This could be a way to help the developing nations while saving the developed ones from their past sins and improving the quality of life  of their own citizens.


John Sears

author

reach me at
cosmik.jo@gmail.com