Friday, July 15, 2016

Robots replacing mall cops? Maybe not quite yet.

A few weeks back it was the guy killed while sort of not driving in an autopiloted Tesla. (The driver – who may or may not have been watching a Harry Potter video while not driving – rammed into the side of a tractor-trailer that had turned in front of him. Tesla autopilot cameras couldn’t pick up on the fact that the white trailer was, in fact, a white trailer and not the sky. So the automatic braking system failed to engage. Where was Expecto Patronum! when the Tesla driver needed it?)

I’m sure there will be many more kinks to be worked out before full autonomous vehicles are the norm. And, let’s face it, they may never eliminate all auto accidents. But they will eliminate a lot of jobs, including the one of the truck driver whose truck was hit.

But it’s not just malfunctioning auto-autos that we have to worry about, as a California mother learned when her toddler was run over by a security robot in a mall. The vic was Harwin Cheng, at 16 months, a little guy. No match for a 5-foot-tall robot that weighs in at 300 pounds.

“The robot hit my son’s head and he fell down — facing down on the floor — and the robot did not stop and it kept moving forward,” Harwin’s mom, Tiffany Teng, told ABC 7.

Teng said that the robot would have run over her son’s other foot had her husband not pulled the boy away. (Source: Huffington Post)

Fortunately, no broken bones. Just bruises and scrapes. And, I’m sure, recurring nightmares for the parents.

So much for Paul Blart, Mall Cop. Here’s what the brave new shopper’s world has in store for us:

Mall Robot

Anyway, the security robots – produced by a Silicon Valley outfit called Knightscope – don’t apprehend criminals. Yet. They do alert human security personnel, who chug on over to slap on the cuffs, or pick the little kids off the floor. It seems there might be a lag between the robot sensing something untoward going on, and the physical, flesh and blood Paul Blart showing up to do something about it. But I’m sure that will all be taken are of eventually. (I.e., the robots will “learn” how to bag the bad guys.)

Hmmmm. Seems like a matter of time before the bad guys start deploying robots to do things like shoplift and mug. Let the battle of the white hat vs. black hat robots be joined.

But seriously, folks, it’s not just on the manufacturing floor where humans are being replaced. Autonomous trucks and cars will translate into no more truck drivers, and no more taxi drivers. Uber? I believe that they have a standing order for the first 500,000 fully autonomous cars that Tesla produces. There are over 3.5 million truck drivers in the US. Throw in another quarter of a million cab drivers – not to mention all those Uber and Lyft drivers – and that’s a lot of jobs that will disappear. What’s going to replace them?

And while we’re adding those folks to the unemployment lines, let’s throw in the 1 million-plus security guards that will be replaced by robots.

This isn’t going to happen tomorrow. Especially not as long as autopiloted cars keep running into things, and those robots are knocking over little kids. But it’s coming.

Not enough discussion about a lot of serious things these days, but the loss of blue-collar jobs to automation should be high on the list.

Just what is it that people are going to do for a living?



Rick T. said...

Human nature is such that we respond to incentives and disincentives. Businesses are run and staffed by humans. When politicians increase minimum wages, and add other required benefits that increase the hourly cost of hiring a human worker, while the Fed and other central banks push interest rates down to the lowest levels in recorded history, then businesses have a strong incentive to use cheap capital to replace expensive humans. It is that simple.

Maureen Rogers said...

Classic economic arguments aside, I don't think that there's a wage low enough to withstand automation. It will happen. The question remains: what are actual PEOPLE going to do when all the jobs are automated...