A robotic future

Not long ago I watched a small army of men and women attack the grass of a park. The park was the size of a baseball field. About thirty people were at work. They used weed whackers. Weed whackers!

My instinct was to think how wasteful this was. One guy or gal on a tractor mower could do the work of these thirty people.

Then reality slapped me in the face. This was a third world island. Yes, the park people could afford a rider-mower. But the country could not afford to have the thirty people sit around to watch the guy on the mower. The government would be happy if the workers used clippers. So it could put a hundred more to work on the park.

Will we have to make work like this for Americans? Will we reach a point where machines, robots and computers handle most of the chores of our society?

A few years ago I visited a large aerospace factory where I worked as a young man. The factory looks pretty much as it had those years before. It holds rows of hundreds of machines. They pump out pretty much the same parts they used to. However, a few things have changed.

There are 500 workers where there had been 5000. And the machines work more quickly. The 500 workers turn out probably three times more parts than 5000 did years before.

This is possible because many of them run several machines. Years before one person ran one machine. Now one person strolls from machine to machine to check they are working properly. Within a decade there will be 50 people doing this work. Yes, 50 doing the work 5000 did when I was young.

I read recently of a Japanese factory that will grow and process something like 50,000 chickens a day. With barely a human hand.

Another Japanese factory is about to produce similar numbers of heads of lettuce every day. Machines will plant, nurture, trim and package the lettuces. With nary a human being in sight.

We have massive warehouses now that are pretty much run by robots. One worker programs dozens of robots. They unload trucks and stack products in the warehouse. They retrieve what they stacked and load it on other trucks. They work without breaks. They never call in sick.

Soon robots will drive our trucks. They will probably put 3 million drivers out of work. Robots will put probably 250,000 taxi drivers out of work. Along with 650,000 bus drivers.

Letís face it. Robots and automation and computers are gobbling up the jobs of many millions. The move away from human workers is accelerating.

So what will we do? Will we all become counselors? Good luck. Machines are taking over that work. They are feeding and comforting patients. They are cleaning offices and rest rooms. Where they are not doing so today they will be soon. Because they work every day and night. They work in the dark. They have no sick kids to keep them home.

Will we go to 20-hour work weeks? To spread smaller amounts of work among greater numbers of people?

Sure, there are jobs we figure only people can do. No machine could ever do the work of _____________. Fill in the blank. When I was young I would have written in telephone receptionists. Press three to learn what happened to that idea.

How will we create work for all the people? Short of arming them with weed whackers. We are going to need our best minds to come up with answers to that question.

Hate to suggest this: The best minds may be artificial intelligence computers. AI will come up with the answers. That, my friend, is a scary thought. Because it is probably true.

From Tom...as in Morgan.

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