2017: The Year of Overhyping Robots

The process of getting a job seems a lot more intense now than it has ever before. I remember the stories my cousins and parents have told me about their job interviewing days: there was a review of your resume, an hour long meeting, followed by a handshake telling you whether or not you received the job. Now, across industries, it seems a little more intense: month long screening processes, nights studying interview problems, followed by a day with seven rounds of interviews (and that was for my internship). It seems the job market is becoming more specialized, so we need to become more specialized for a job and the vetting process is becoming much more intense. But what if that’s not enough to get the best workers? Why go through this process when you can have a robot or an AI do it better, faster, and significantly cheaper? That seems like all you read when going through your newsfeed or Reddit.

They say 2016 was the year of IoT, the internet of things. So many devices and technologies becoming connected to the world. Now as 2017 has begun, it seems like this is the year of the robot. But that doesn’t seem right to a roboticist like myself. I mean robots are still pretty dumb. They can perform complex tasks very accurately and better than most humans, such as detecting criminal activity like credit card theft, but fail on simple tasks like distinguishing between a dog and a cat, which is less than 80% accurate on the best Neural Nets. We think of robots and our first thoughts soar to something like Rosie from ‘The Jetsons’ not a iRobot’s Roomba poorly cleaning your living room. So maybe 2017 won’t be the year of the robot and AI, but the year that these respective technologies were overhyped.

Currently there is no Steve Jobs and Apple of robotics. There are interesting robotics companies out in the field ranging ANKI’s Robotic AI children’s car game to Mayfield Robotic’s Kuri, the most recent home robot, but no company is rolling out a product that show promise of replacing humans that soon. UBER’s self-driving car is causing a panic amongst people relying on an additional income for their livelihood. I wouldn’t be too worried: on three trips I was a passenger, the car was only self-driving for about two seconds before it broke down. Is this panicking all unfounded? Yes and no. Yes, robots aren’t coming for our jobs anytime in the immediate future, but they will be and it’s good to conscientiously be prepared for that reality.

As robotics continue to be developed, not everyone’s job will be able to be replaced. Sure, certain analytical tasks will be better performed by an Artificially Intelligent agent or a Machine Learning platform, but creative tasks and tasks that need high flexibility in task performance seem to be irreplaceable by anything currently being developed in the lab. In addition, as with every new technology being introduced that automates a previous task, more likely than not, new jobs in new fields will be created. Therefore it is safe to say this is the year of overhyping robotics and AI, unless 2018 can have a greater run at it.