Perhaps we should have a Paul Revere type riding through out streets warning of the pending Robot Invasion. Why ? Let’s have a look into to near future, but be warned it might not be like you and others have imagined it to be.
I believe we are now entering an age that is witnessing the fusion of technology, artificial intelligence and robotics. Where will it lead? Many have speculated but circumstances always have a way of going in directions many people would never dream of.
There are several robots currently under development that are designed to replace humans in the work place . Everyone by now is familiar with Amazon’s hopes of delivering packages to your doorstep utilizing the use of drones. This technology is real and is ready to be implemented and I think most of us will experience it in out lifetimes along with a hot pizza being delivered or other items. Amazon has been building distribution centers in every state. While they have given up tax advantages by eliminating their exemptions. What eats up more costs than taxes? Shipping costs. By building distribution centers they can reduce shipping costs and improve delivery in the short term but dramatically reduce costs if they can deliver packages by drones. And this seems to be Amazon’s ultimate goal.
Other companies are also quietly introducing or supporting the development of Robots that will replace their own workers. We are all familiar with factory automation with devices that paint automobiles and weld components as they travel an assembly line but I am talking about much more advanced . Many restaurants, Applebees and Chili’s are examples, are testing new systems that are designed to let patrons place their meal orders without having to wait for or interact with a waitress or waiter. In addition to placing your order you can also pay with a credit or debit card using the device. This will eliminate errors and employee costs by allowing the restaurants to only hire a couple of “runners” that will deliver the food to your table. Fast food restaurants are leading the charge with robotics however with many Wendy’s and McDonald’s utilizing Kiosks to place your order. Once the order is placed and paid for you can go to the counter to pick up your order. In addition enterprising robotic companies are also developing robotic machines that will cook and assemble hamburgers to order. With fast food workers demanding $15 per hour in wages it will make the machine the cost effective approach.
Robots are also under development for use in retail stores like Walmart, Target , Home Depot and most others. The robots will have the capability to interact with customers and act as store clerks. In many ways the robots will be improvement over the humans in that they will have instant access to knowledge bases and inventory counts being able to share the availability of products. They can also collect instant data and feedback for the stores as to what items people are requesting and what items are trending. The robots will have many other advantages over their human counter parts. They will not have to call in sick or request time off and in fact will be available for work 24 hours per day 365 days a year. Robots will not care if it is Sunday, a religious Holiday or a Birthday they will always be available for work making it cost effective for stores to remain open 24 hours a day and year round. Basically one Robot, because it does not need sleep or rest could in theory replace up to three employees during a 24 hour period. That is a total of 120 hours per week. This is $93,600 a year in savings based on the $15 per hour that many fast food workers are currently demanding. This would mean if a robot cost less than $50,000 each it would pay for itself in less than a year. The second year would increase company profits. Who knows what the potential lifespan of a robot will be but ten years certainly sounds like a reasonable projection. The robot will never complain or cause malcontent with other workers, will never strike, demand raises or join unions. It will not require benefits like health insurance and retirement and the employer will not have to pay for workman compensation insurance or federal and state unemployment insurance, the employers mandated matching Medicare benefits tax or the matching social security taxes. In addition the employer will not have worry about equal pay issues or civil rights issues, and sexual harassment lawsuits. As you can see even small business will benefit greatly from replacing workers with robots as the savings will be tremendous.
What about the drawbacks of replacing human workers with Robots?
There will be very little disadvantage for the employers, at least at first. As one can quickly contemplate this scenario cannot be sustained, at least as our way of life exist today. As employers replace human employees with robots more and more people will be forced out of the work force. This in turn will create a “snowball” effect, the more people that lose their jobs the less people will have money to purchase goods and services from the very companies that laid them off. It will also quickly overwhelm the state and federal governments unemployment and welfare safety nets. With fewer and fewer workers to pay into these programs they will quickly overwhelm the system to where the government will have to terminate the programs. New jobs will be nonexistent as most jobs created will for robots. I can envision governments actually collapsing under the burden of a calamity for which they were not prepared. Only a lucky few will still have jobs in just a few short years. Before the companies have realized what they have done it will be too late to turn back. They will have destroyed the very customer base they depend on by putting so many people out of work. Not only will this scenario play out in the United States but it be taking place world wide.
I am not a “Doom and Gloom” type of person but I am just not sure we can stop this from occurring. It is playing out now at a somewhat slow pace but at some point it will take off and there will be a point of no return. A good example is the cell phone or smart phone. I can remember when only a select few had satellite phones, they were very expensive and were literally the size of a large brief case. Then, magically they were reduced in size and the cost came down. Now days you rarely see anyone without a smart phone. Almost overnight it seemed had one. And I’m afraid that’s what will happen with robots, Just a few companies are using them now but when the technology improves and the prices become more reasonable due to mass production the robots will replace workers extremely fast.
What I believe will take place with the companies using robots to replace workers is that there will be a company that produces a robot that is truly revolutionary. In the beginning only a few companies will take the plunge and replace almost all their workers with robots. A few companies will resist altogether but it will become quickly clear to them if they do not also adapt this new robot revolution they will not be able to compete against the companies that have gone to robots. In this competitive manner all companies will be forced into adapting robots. This is when it will be so rapid of a change it will seem to take place almost over night. They will either adapt to robots or most will simply go out of business.
Can the Robot Revolution be stopped?
Perhaps, but it would require legislation not only from our Congress but by governments all over the world so the likelihood of that happening are very remote. No country will be willing to risk letting others have the technological advantage over the others. In addition Big Corporations control most governments so they are not likely to try and stop it either. I believe the best we can hope for is that governments are recognizing the threats and start to prepare for a different type of society and start planning for how people can survive without jobs. It is a very difficult and complicated subject to address so it must be started soon.
One thought that I had was that people be allowed to “own” robots. Corporations would be forced to hire these robots and pay them wages on behalf of their owners. These robots would become the their “proxy” workers that earn money for them and pay taxes out of their “salaries”. I am not entirely sure how this would all work out but it seems like a good starting point for addressing the problem. Still there would be a lot of questions to answer. Would everyone be assigned a robot at birth or at a certain age? Can you own more than one robot? Do all robots receive equal pay? I could go on and on but I believe you get the point.
Robotics in our everyday lives are here already
Robotics have been with us for a while now but few of us recognize them as such. Cars that drive themselves, planes that fly on auto-pilot, or drones that fly, spy and even kill human targets. Robots are being incorporated into our everyday lives. Take the development of Siri,Ok Google, Pixby or Amazons Echo and IBM’s Watson they are all being incorporated into our lives and are taking on increasing attributes of humans to the point where we no longer recognize or think of them as robotics.
Another example is the Honda robot (Asimo) that is being developed. a humanoid robot that can do many amazing things just like its human companions. It can push a cart, carry a tray, it can assist humans by synchronizing with them by adjusting its movements and strength when interacting with the humans. It can walk, climb and descend stairs, and can avoid obstacles. It can even jump! It can also chart a route to follow, recognize moving objects ( like shaking hands) , distinguish sounds and can recognize faces and human gestures. While the Honda robot has not yet hit production parts of the robot have, a many developments have sprung from the robot to aid handicapped individuals such as a body support device, stride management assist which are both products that help support human mobility. While much of the robotic development we have seen to date is mostly products that serve a single function we are about ready to hit the next phases of development e=where we will have the multitasking humanoid types of robots that will actually perform complex human tasks and start to fill in human roles. When exactly the first robots will start rolling off the shelves is hard to predict but I think it is entirely possible to see them within the next five to ten years.
Another unknown area – Human Computer Implants
Did you know that the FDA has approved a computer chip for implant into the human brain? The ones that have been approved for now are more like the implants that are used for pet tracking only these chips will contain your medical history so that in medical emergencies doctors will instantly have access to your records. But other companies like Intel are working on actual computers that will be implanted and connected to your brain. You will be able to access the internet and make calculations all the while carrying on a conversation with your girlfriend or perhaps a work colleague. Intel is predicting to have these ready for implanting as early as 2020.
Humans that choose to have the implants will have distinct advantages over those that choose not to have them. So will this force people to have the implants to remain competitive at school or work? I would predict if they are successful then it will almost certainly force most to have the implants. Employers will want only the brightest and best for the few positions that are not occupied by robots. If you want to be competitive you will not only have the implants but you will be forced to continually upgrade to the latest and greatest implants. Wow, what a future!
There is no doubt that robots are poised to eliminate many human jobs within the next decade. We as individuals and even as a nation and a world need to prepare for these developments in our evolution. Unless we start preparing now the change will occur so rapidly that when it reaches a critical mass it could very well cause widespread economic collapse. One only has to look at recent history to see how fast computers and cell phones were incorporated onto our daily lives. It just a few short years we reached the point in society that it would be very difficult to do without these important tools. (for those that were born afterwards it could be impossible!) It seems that each time a new and revolutionary technological advancement is introduced it is accepted and incorporated by humans the quicker it becomes part of our daily lives. The robotic revolution is upon us and I believe it will happen very quickly and if we are not prepared the results could be catastrophic for our society. It doesn’t have to be though, with just a little preparation it could be humanities road to utopia. What does this all have to do with dividend Income Investing? I’m glad you asked. This is one of the many reasons I believe it is important to not only invest and develop income for the future but to develop multiple income streams as insurance for life’s unexpected turns and twists.
Just for Fun
As far as I know – as of yet no controls have been placed on robots. Even if we (the United States) had controls on robots the reality is you would have to impose controls literally on every single nation in the world. This not only very likely I will state it is impossible to do.
Issac Asimov, a famous science fiction author, published a short story that later became famous for it’s suggested “rules” for governing Robots behavior. His article publish in 1942, included the simple rules for robots. three were original and the fourth he added later on.
- A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law or Second Law.
- Asimov added this law later – The Fourth Law . A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
This all sounds good and makes us warm and fuzzy when thinking about those cute little robots running around doesn’t it? Well maybe you forgot that the Military is developing its own prototypes of robots and I am very sure they will not be on the battlefield to tell jokes. They will have a primary purpose of destroying and killing so you can bet Issac Asimov’s Robotic Rules will not apply ! Sorry to ruin it for you, I know it was bad enough thinking about the possibility of losing your jobs. As someone that prides himself as a realist though I believe it is necessary to point out the bad and the good.
There is little doubt that if instituted correctly the robotic Revolution can have very positive impacts on society. It is our responsibility to make sure we move to limit the possible negative impacts.
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