I work in the technology Industry and see myself gravitating towards news articles which talk about automation and its effect on the workforce. Professor Klaus Schwab sums it well when he says “ There has never been a time of greater promise or greater peril”. This one sentence sums up the mood of the world today. We do not have a clue on how automation is going to impact us. Scores of articles and books have been written to dissect the impact of the automation. Recently a colleague recommended a book “ Humans Need Not Apply “ — By Jerry Kaplan. It was quite a decent read, as it gave good insights on the impact of automation on the workforce and tries to analyse if the world tomorrow will be Star Trek or Terminator.

The book delves into history of how IBM introduced the concept of artificial intelligence and the interesting trivia on Dave Shaw and start of Amazon’s journey on how it leveraged the principles applied to security transactions to book ecommerce.

The book is replete with statistics which makes one ponder. For example in the early 1800, farms employed 80% of US workers. By 1900, the figure dropped to 40 percent and today it is only 1.5 percent. Now what happened in two centuries could happen in two decades and could disrupt a complete set of industries. Forged labour will displace the need of most skilled labour, while synthetic intellects will supplant the skilled trades of the educated. The book lists some interesting examples of robotic companies which can impact our future.

  1. Agrobot, a Spanish company makes a commercial robot that harvests strawberries. It can identify a ripe fruit for picking.
  2. Blue River Technologies, a Silicon valley funded start-up is developing robots that can weed. It uses camera, computer vision and machine learning algorithms to differentiate between crops from weeds.
  3. Industrial Perception Inc has robots which can peer into trucks, select items and then pick it up.
  4. A tech legal startup Judicata uses machine learning and natural language processing techniques to convert ordinary text such as legal principles or specific cases into structured information that can be used for finding relevant case law.
  5. Automation has not spared even the medical industry. Today the primary physician is like a travel agent ,who can direct you to specialists except for simple ailments. Well Point, healthcare benefits manager has deployed Watson. It can sift through equivalent of one million books or 200 million pages of data and analyse the information and provide precise responses in less than 3 seconds. It can help doctors to identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases.

It is a forgone conclusion that unless government and policy holders step in, unmitigated automation could lead to fractures in the society. Policy holders cannot let nature holds its own course similar to what happened in the 3rd Industrial Revolution. The biggest issue which governments would face in future is the ever increasing inequalities between the rich and poor. Financial Access to the capabilities of artificial intelligence would further empower the rich and make the poor poorer.

Governments need to frame policies which would mitigate income equalities and frame laws which takes into account the participation of AI robots in our workforce. Unless we recognize AI as an tangible entity, we will end up on a garden path to nowhere. It is pertinent that governments recognizes the influence of AI robots on the workforce and frames commensurate policies. With commensurate policies, I believe man and machine will coexist to have a STAR TREK Future.