Replacing Humans with Software Systems and Robots, and How to Balance Convenience with Security

By Elevate posted 04-30-2014 09:15


jetsons460.jpgBill Gates recently gave a talk at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, DC, saying:


“Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses… it’s progressing. Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set… Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”


I have to agree, and have personally seen automation on the rise.


On a typical work day, to save time and avoid the hassle of ordering and waiting for food at a restaurant, I have increasingly been relying on ordering online and picking up once I get a notification that the order is ready. Recently, when I ordered food from The Melt, what really impressed me was that shortly after placing my order online, I received a QR code (barcode) that could be scanned at the restaurant. I didn’t even need to “speak” to a person when I picked up my meal. The only part of the process not automated was the meal prep, packing, and delivery.


Similarly, I saw one of Google’s self-driving cars on the road a few months ago. How long before such sightings are not unusual? Or what about automated medical device systems? Robotic equipment for performing or assisting with medical procedures? 


Although I haven’t had much experience obtaining medical advice from a non-human or automated system, I believe it won’t be long before this is commonplace—at least as a first point of contact, prior to connecting directly with a primary care physician or specialist.  Already, it’s not uncommon for many of us to “Google” medical terms, conditions, and even medications just to get a baseline understanding of these prior to consulting a medical professional. Also, during my tenure at Adept Technology, I learned that industrial-grade robots have been used in factories (e.g., car manufacturing) for decades, precision robotic arms are commonly used for fine procedures and surgery assistance, and clean-room robots are used for food packaging and in other clean-room environments.


The thing is, despite the excitement and tremendous opportunity and cost savings that automation promises, there are some of us who would be anxious and hesitant to “relinquish control” to these software-based systems and robots. I, for one, would question whether or not:


1) These systems and robots would be robust (wouldn’t malfunction) and secure (wouldn’t compromise sensitive/personal data and integrity)?


2) These systems/robots would make the right decisions and provide reasonable guidance that has primarily been human functions to date?


I also wonder if humans would still be required alongside these automated mechanisms to analyze and make a decision in certain high-risk conditions (e.g., critical medical procedure). Approaching this from the other side, how might we be able to achieve convenience when relying on automated software-driven systems and robots without compromising comfort?


What are your thoughts on the future of automation and robotics?