- You, the “Sender”, go online and name and describe the task, including when and where you want it done as well as the maximum you are willing to pay.
- “Runners” are alerted and bid the minimum that they are willing to accept to do the job.
- You review the bids and select one.
- The runner performs the work.
- You review, rate, and reimburse for the work.
The Wall Street Journal this week (17 February 2011) had a scary and thought-provoking editorial called “Is Your Job an Endangered Species.”
The thesis is that “Technology is eating jobs—and not just obvious ones like toll takers and phone operators. Lawyers and doctors are at risk as well.”
The notion is that while technology creates opportunities for some, it is a major threat to many others.
The opinion piece says to “forget blue-collar and white-collar-workers.” Rather, think in terms of workers who are either “creators” or “servers”.
Creators—these are the innovators: programmers, researchers, and engineers. They are “the ones driving productivity—writing code, designing chips, creating drugs, and running search engines.”
Servers—these are jobs to service the creators: “building homes, providing food, offering legal advice,” etc. These jobs are ripe “to be replaced by machines, by computers, and by how business operates.”
These two categories of labor are similarly portrayed in the movie I. Robot with a vision of society by 2035 that has engineers (“creators”) from U.S. Robotics building robots and then masses of robots walking around side by side with people and performing everyday tasks from the delivering packages to caring for the sick (“servers”).
With manufacturing jobs continuing to move overseas to the “lowest price bidder” and service-based jobs at risk as we continue to make advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, there are a number of important questions that will challenge us:
1) Are the Creator jobs (augmented by the left-over service jobs that don’t go to robots or AI) enough to keep our population fully or even near fully employed?
2) Can almost everyone (no matter what their intellectual capability and curiosity) be expected to perform in the functional job category of creators?
3) Can we transition the preponderance of our society to be engineers and programmers and scientists and inventors—especially given our challenges in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and is this even desirable?
According to the WSJ editorial, there are a few givens:
– Momentous change in the job market is upon us: “Like it or not we are at the beginning of a decades-long trend” in changing employment prospects.
– Jobs are going to be destroyed: “There is no quick fix for job creation when so much technology-driven job destruction is taking place.”
– New jobs will be created: “History shows that labor-saving machines haven’t decreased overall employment even when they have made certain jobs obsolete.”
One of the major problems with the rapid pace of the technology boom we are experiencing is that job market has not had time to adjust—and the “legacy” labor supply is out of equilibrium with the emerging market demands.
Therefore, until new jobs and the associated education and training catch up to meet the demands of a changing society, we are going to suffer severe job dislocation and unemployment that will be enormously painful for many years yet to come.
In terms of what the gamut of new jobs will end up being in our society, surely it will involve areas of critical need such as energy independence, ongoing medical breakthroughs, necessary security advances, high-speed transportation, and so much more.
In all cases though, we can expect that those workers that bring innovation and modern technical skills “to the table” will have the distinct advantage over those that cling to jobs past their technological prime.
Digital natives will have the advantage here; digital immigrants need to adjust to the seismic shift to the employment landscape that is still only just beginning.
Forget waiters and waitresses, the new Japanese Hajime Robot restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand invested almost $1 million on 4 robotic waitstaff.
You order your food by touch screen computer, and there is a countdown on the screen for when the food is ready and the robot brings it out to you.
While the samurai clad robots are not the best looking—their huge eyes are a little cartoonish—they are certainly quite dexterous and able as they nimbly serve the food in this restaurant and dance for the customers in between courses without missing a beat.
Initially automation affected the jobs of blue-collar workers in manufacturing and mechanical work as robots displaced people on the “assembly line.” Now we see the trend continuing and expanding with automation entering the service industry and jobs involving customer interaction, entertainment, and retail being affected. This is happening not only in restaurants, but also elder care (like robot uBot5 being developed out of University of Massachusetts), and in major retail establishments such as in warehouse automation with Kiva Systems robots being employed by major companies like Gap, Staples, and Zappos.
Further, the expansion of robots into traditional human work is also happening in our military—think Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones) like the Predators and Reapers, the robotics pack animals that can carry hundreds of pounds of gear (like Big Dog) and various bomb disposal robots. This is just the beginning.
We are witnessing the transformation of our workforce from traditional blue- and now even white-collar jobs to those with an emphasis on knowledge management (think engineers and technology professionals working at companies like iRobot, Intel, and Apple). This has obvious implications for selection of education pursuits and availability of professional opportunities in the future for our children and grandchildren.
The robots are coming. The robots ARE coming!