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By Monica E. Oss

October 8, 2011

I am fixated with the RI-MAN – a robot designed for personal care with sensors that allow him to see, hear, and smell. Covered in soft silicone, RI-MAN can perform delicate work, such as lifting frail patients. And since I am planning to live to be 110, I think the RI-MAN will come in handy (see New Service Opportunities in the 60+ Market Space: Science & Demographics Create Opportunities for Behavioral Health Providers ).

My colleagues laugh when I talk about my fixation with the RI-MAN. But I recently read the piece by one of my favorite writers, Farhad Manjoo, “Will Robots Steal Your Job?,” that left me thinking that my robot obsession is justified. Mr. Manjoo’s article posits that artificial intelligence is getting to be so good, that not only will technology replace jobs requiring simple, rote tasks; but also the more complicated skilled jobs that we think of as “safe.”

This is very similar to comments from Tom Friedman’s recent book – “with increased access to more automation, more software, more machines and more people, and more talent of an above average quality” there is a need for a more inventive worker. Routine tasks are being, and will continue to be, automated, and the value add in our information economy is the employee at any position and at any level that can innovate and invent new solutions (see Innovate or Else? all members)

Have your doubts? Just check these out:

  1. Japanese Researchers Unveil RIBA 2 Caregiving Robot

  2. GeckoSystems Announces New Technologies for In-Home Care Robots

  3. PARO, the Robot Seal, Being Used as Intervention for Dementia

  4. Surrogate Communication Robot, Millennia, Encourages Social Interaction Among Children With Autism

  5. Robotic Arm Guided by Artificial Intelligence Performs Surgery, Sans Surgeon

  6. MindMentor On-Line ‘Robot Psychologist’ Solves Problems in One $8 Session

These stories do a good job of touching on the physical presence of robotic tools, but Mr. Manjoo’s article raises the stakes as he writes, “As computers get better at processing and understanding language and at approximating human problem-solving skills, they’re putting a number of professions in peril. Those at risk include doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and creative professionals—even writers like myself.” In the short term, expect anything that is routine and expensive to be replaced by an automated and cheaper version. And, if technology developers and cost conscious business owners have their way, almost any job that doesn’t involve face-to-face interaction will be up for grabs.

That made me think of one of my favorite movies, Alien, and the character Ash the Android. Ash may not be so far out in our future. Let’s just hope he’s not under the order, “crew expendable.”

Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

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For more from the OPEN MINDS Circle, see: Make Room for Robots  all members 

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