(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)
Irwin quotes MIT professor David Autor's recent paper the future of robotics in the labor market.
"Both a toilet and a traffic cone look somewhat like a chair, but a bit of reasoning about their shapes vis-à-vis the human anatomy suggests that a traffic cone is unlikely to make a comfortable seat," Autor writes. "Drawing this inference, however, requires reasoning about what an object is 'for,' not simply what it looks like."
Computers aren't good at doing that yet, because they lack something that humans have in abundance: the ability to make inferences without explicit and complete knowledge. (Irwin's examples are our ability to drive a car, without understanding everything that goes into making a car work, or to identify species of birds without being an ornithologist.)
Furthermore, there's the fact that loss of one type of job doesn't necessarily portend loss of employment as a whole. Autor reminds us that 41 percent of the US labor force worked in agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century; today, only 2 percent does. The descendants of those farmers now toil in other, less literal, fields.
So will robots steal our jobs someday? Some of them, certainly: automation is friendly to the bottom line, and thus persuasive to decision makers who are always looking for chances to save money. But before we panic, we should remember that technology has always evolved to take some jobs and create others. A perfect outcome would involve robots doing the dangerous, boring, dirty work, and humans acting as common-sense translators, picking out the chairs from the traffic cones.
In the end, only time will tell.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you think robots will steal our jobs? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.