back to article Robo-AI jobs doomsday may, er... not actually happen, say boffins

Today's technopanic about robots and AI, largely created by the media, may be overstated. New modelling published this week attempts to isolate the impact of industrial automation from other factors, and envisage what the economy might look like if the use of robots in industry increases, focusing on the impact on employment …


    1. DropBear

      Re: Where's Fred Pohl when you need him?

      I'd wager there are also a LOT fewer people who can repair a broken TV set than say, fifty years ago. The only problem is, there does not seem to be any need for them these days. Maintenance is a redundant concept when reasonable MTBF is coupled with dumping-level availability & price of replacements. Not that I particularly approve of that philosophy, but it is what we already have even today.

      1. Daedalus

        Re: Where's Fred Pohl when you need him?

        I was referring mostly to crap software and firmware. The sort of thing increasingly in evidence in bad websites, horribly dangerous in-car user interfaces, "smart" appliances that do the same old thing in new dumb ways, applications that ignore all the time-tested rules for managing user input, phone voice systems that give you the runaround etc. etc.

        And don't forget all those wonderful "live data" systems that need somebody somewhere accurately entering the correct information minute by minute. Even if you run a store inventory system off the bar code scanners at the checkout, you still have many many issues that need careful attention.

        The amount of software in our lives is increasing, dare I misuse the word, exponentially. The size of the population that can produce, update, and deliver that software is not growing as fast.

  1. Mage


    "neural nets helped speech recognition make big gain"


    I've not noticed much change in voice recognition QUALITY in last 15 years.

    " but all it had were 20-year-old techniques."

    Actually thirty year old techniques. It's still all there is, except faster (more powerful CPU / GPU adds zero AI, only speed) and with bigger databases.

    " to harness neural networks (now rechristened as the much sexier "deep learning") on narrow demo-friendly challenges such as image recognition and text processing,"

    Perhaps because they are nothing like biological neural networks. It's a data flow design based algorithm approach (invented in early 1980s) well suited to multiple cores (first popular on Transputers) and distributed systems.

    Though curiously I can't find a grammar checker or spelling checker much better that I had on CP/M and DOS 1987 to 1991.

    Google translate is a LESS advanced idea than translation in 1990s as at its "heart" it uses a Rosetta stone brute force approach. They started with EU texts. Not by improved parsing and grammar models.

    Industrialisation and automation dates back to the end of the 18th C. with powered programmable looms. CPUs and programs have replaced 1960s relays and ladder logic. It's been incremental over the last 50 years in electronics assembly.

    Most AI is hype, marketing and Humpty Dumpty "Words mean what I want them to mean". It's brittle with the unexpected as it's ultimately human curated rules, data and complex human written programs.

    We have no idea why in some respects a crow is smarter than a chimp. Why Corvids, budgies, elephants, chimps (only sign), dolphins, starlings and parrots can learn vocabulary as symbols for real things and can't do language.

    We have no satisfactory definition of exactly what Intelligence is, which seriously hampers program design. We are no closer to General machine intelligence than 60 years ago. All progress in AI has been by innovating a machine solution based on brute force and bigger data sets (to reduce the run time brute force needed, e.g. previous chess matches). Redefinition of marketing terms from database, Expert System, AI, Neural Network, deep learning.

    Yes machines replace human jobs, not new and arguably you should look at 1837 to 2017, not just since 1997. It's slowed a lot.

    1. Cris E

      Re: Rechristened

      Well, sure, facts: go ahead and be that way. But you can't deny the almost laughable amount of computing power that can be brought to bear on the most trivial of tasks these days. Just as the widespread availability of cheap high speed networks changed the world, this will remove barriers to all sorts of tasks that were more or less solved but not implemented because of cost or complexity.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Rechristened


      Have one on me.

  2. Aladdin Sane

    I, for one,

    welcome our new robot overlords.

    1. DropBear

      Re: I, for one,

      Before going to give them a hug I reckon it would be prudent to listen in just to make sure they aren't muttering "exterminate"...

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    The Future ... but Not as You Will Know IT

    Today's technopanic about robots and AI, largely created by the media, may be overstated.

    Howdy, Andrew,

    You might like to realise the technopanic about robots and AI is misstated rather than understated, and that which lurks to disrupt everything fundamentally in the future is way beyond any possibility of regular conventional control, for it requires the sharing of greater intelligence mainstream which the mainstream intelligence services are either totally unaware of, or reluctant to admit to knowing and sharing because of the evil light which it will unavoidably puts them, and their support financial systems admins, in.

    Such then leaves the field free and fertile for alternative sources and special forces. And I Kid U Not for such is a novel field of Great Game Play which pay bounties and rewards beyond price, and that make it a very attractive and most unusual market and proprietary intellectual property trading space.

    1. Alistair Silver badge

      Re: The Future ... but Not as You Will Know IT

      I wonder what my guild will pay me for tanking aMfM.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Wishful Thinking is a Dream State in a Dream AI State? :-)

        I wonder what my guild will pay me for tanking aMfM. .... Alistair

        "tanking", Alistair? What is that? Would you dare care share and reveal exactly what that proposes you would be able to do for remote third parties?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Wishful Thinking is a Dream State in a Dream AI State? :-) @Symon

            Oh, is that all that it is, Symon. Thanks for the interpretation/explanation.

            It never ceases to amaze and please me, the number of folk who have no idea about what is going on all around them, with them being completely unprepared and totally unable to do anything effective against its dogged progress.

            Buy hey, such is only natural in these new fundamentally changed and radically changing virtual reality times with novel cyber spaces for rapid stealthy exploitation of both heavenly bodies/immaculate systems and ignorant masses alike.

            And yesterday’s US Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with testimony from witnesses on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its capabilities to influence elections in other Western democracies …… …… is proof positive in reactive deed, indeed, if any be needed on that fact in the raging seas of foaming and forming media fiction.

            IT’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and becoming ever stranger ….. and if they truth be really told ….. You aint seen nothing yet. :-)

            Here’s some smoke for that toke …… Bachman Turner Overdrive

  4. Cynic_999

    The tail is wagging the dog

    The idea that we need to create enough work to keep the available labour pool occupied is exactly the wrong way to think. Work is not a desirable activity (if it were, it would be called "leisure" or "a hobby" rather than "work"). Being able to reduce the amount of work that is needed to be carried out by a given society should be something to celebrate. The reason it is considered desirable to increase or maintain the total amount of work carried out by a given population so there is enough for every member of that population to work 35 or so hours per week for most of their adult life is due to the way our particular economic system has been designed, not because it is either necessary or desirable.

    Design a different economic system and we will be able to do the sensible thing and concentrate on reducing the total amount of work humans need to carry out rather than stifling progress and inventing work in order to satisfy an unnecessary artificial system. Becoming unemployed should be a desirable goal, not something to be avoided.

    1. Bob Rocket

      Re: The tail is wagging the dog

      You can have the day off when all human demand has been satisfied, until then there will always be someone willing to pay someone else to do the bits they can't/won't do for themselves.

    2. DropBear

      Re: The tail is wagging the dog

      Well yes but that would assume that the machine's owners would have to voluntarily give back at least a teeny-weeny bit of the value the machine generates to the fresh leisure-time millionaire it just replaced (assuming everything didn't just suddenly become free). For example, by paying enough taxes to cover all that stuff taxes tend to cover right now plus a decent wage for every non-working non-robot-owner, just to stay at home. Hell, frost, pigs, wings, etc...

  5. Anonymous Coward

    "We're in the business of making better drivers". How you could read that and see it as confirmation that Waymo doesn't exist to build self-driving cars (and instead support your weird point about co-pilots) is beyond me. The "better driver" in that business model is the AI. Not the human with an AI co-pilot.

    Not that I'm any fan of the prospect, mind.

  6. Bucky 2

    In order to be worried, I'd have to believe that there is an entire class of human beings who are so worthless, that they would be easily replaced by robots. Then the middle class would become the lower class, and the lower class would become -- what -- homeless, I guess.

    That would make me a snob and a misanthrope.

  7. martinusher Silver badge

    Its not the tin men you have to worry about

    It doesn't make much sense to employ a humanoid robot for jobs humans can do -- humans are cheap to source, self-replicating, self-maintaining and generally much better at being people than machines are. Where people are in danger are in two areas. One is tasks which require precise, repeatable, operations. The machine gets the job because its better at doing it than a human. The other is automation of tasks that require knowledge that's mostly learned rather than understood. Office automation is an obvious one, but the number and scope of administrative tasks that can be automated is huge, along with things like routine medical and legal tasks, So I do expect jobs carnage with legions of office workers joining the armies of redundant blue collar workers, creating a large pool of low cost humanoids for menial tasks that cannot justify developing machines for that purpose.

    Its all very dystopian.

  8. Allan George Dyer

    Perhaps Andrew Orlowski has been killed by a drone, and the article was written by an AI to keep us calm while the takeover progresses?

  9. Long John Brass

    Jesus^H^H^H^H^H Hal-9000 is my co-pilot

    I've been thinking of getting a roomba style bot to vacuum

    Already have Automatic washing machine & Dryer, A Microwave, etc...

    Currently tinkering with a 3d printer and would like to get my sticky fingers on a CNC machine, A LASER cutter would be nice too; Tell me again why robots are bad?

    I love driving; But I HATE commuting, a self drive car would be a bloody god-send

    The more I can automate my life the happier I am

  10. jonfr

    That's what they sad about the PC

    This is the same thing they sad about the PC at the time (1977).

    "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.

    Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston. This is widely quoted but Olsen claims it is taken out of context, that he was not referring to personal computers but to a household computer that would control the home.

    Reference: "Ken Olsen", Snopes, includes bibliography."

  11. IGnatius T Foobar


    It would seem that if automation is capable of driving down the demand for human workers, it will also drive down wages, in which case it will often make economic sense to hire humans. Not the best possible outcome, but not the worst, either. On the other hand, Jeff Bezos is trying very hard to create a world in which he is the only one who has a job. I hope he dies.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Balance?

      At which point you have a massive economic downturn because only a privileged few can now afford to consume the products of all that cheap labour.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Largely created by the s/media/left as a justification for increased interference/


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