The McDonald’s on the corner of Third Avenue and 58th Street in New York City doesn’t look all that different from any of the fast-food chain’s other locations across the country. Inside, however, hungry patrons are welcomed not by a cashier waiting to take their order, but by a “Create Your Taste” kiosk – an automated touch-screen system that allows customers to create their own burgers without interacting with another human being. It’s impossible to say exactly how many jobs have been lost by the deployment of the automated kiosks – McDonald’s has been predictably reluctant to release numbers – but such innovations will be an increasingly familiar sight in Trump’s America.
Back in 2011 researchers in Switzerland invented a robot bricklayer which they predicted would be commonplace on building sites within 10 years. And it already seems to be happening. Meet Robo-Hod the hi-tech robot brickie-it doesn’t need a tea break and will not wolf-whistle at women walking by. The In-situ Fabricator is a giant mechanical arm on a mobile base and can even be programmed to lay bricks in complex designs. It can also move around a building site using laser-guided range-finders to navigate. The In-Situ Fabricator can build the walls of a typical house in two days – or 20 times faster than a traditional brickie.
According to Matthias Kohler, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich, the In-Situ model is “the first machine that can actually go on construction sites and build non-standard designs, meaning designs which can vary and adapt to the local conditions directly in the building site”. In-Situ’s 2D laser range-finder, together with computer algorithms, help to build up a 3D map of a building site linked to structural plans. The map allows the robot to know its location at all times and – uniquely in the growing field of construction robotics – to move around a building site unaided. It can also adapt autonomously to minor design variations.
Professor Kohler said: “The benefit from an architectural point of view is that you can really design the construction directly, so you can plan for how it is built instead of designing your plan and then that plan afterwards being converted on the construction site. So it actually changes the paradigm of how you design and build quite fundamentally.”
Your greatest competition in a few decades probably will not be human. Instead, job applicants will most likely have to compete with tireless and efficient robots, which are aggressively transforming the labour force. Image: ‘Night Cleaning’ performance by Artist Tom Estes at the exhibition BIG DEAL in London
New York-based firm Construction Robotics has developed a robot called SAM (short for Semi-Automated Mason), which can lay 3,000 bricks a day. Robots that can lay six times as many bricks a day as human builders are set to turn the construction industry on its head. The devices have already started replacing humans on a handful of sites in America, and Construction Robotics is hoping to introduce the robots in Britain within the next two years.
According to their website, Construction Robotics (CR) was established with the goal of advancing construction through the use of robotics, automation and the same principles used in manufacturing. CR aims to develop world leading robotics and automation equipment for the construction industry, starting with SAM100. Construction Robotics is focused on advancing construction through the use of new technology and the same manufacturing principles used for decades in other industries. By leveraging new technology CR believes there can be significant improvements to the way the construction industry operates.
Construction Robotics isn’t the only company working on bricklaying robots. Australian company Fastbrick Robotics has also developed a proof of concept for a commercial bricklaying machine called Hadrian X. From the computer aided design of a house structure, the Hadrian X robotic bricklayer will be able to handle the automatic loading, cutting, routing and placement of all bricks to build a complete structure. Delivery of the first commercial prototype of Hadrian X is due later this year.Meanwhile, technology is being developed to protect builders from some of the more dangerous side effects of working on a construction site.
“We are going to be going over to the UK in the coming months to meet with some companies and see if we can find a home for Sam there,” Scott Peters, the company’s president, told The Times .
Sme of Britain’s biggest construction firms have warned that the automation of the industry is likely to result in mass layoffs.
“Five years ago I’d have smiled wryly if somebody had said to me that robots would be able to put up buildings in the City of London,” said Alison Carnwath, chairwoman of Land Securities, at the the Institute of Directors’ annual convention.
“I tell you we’re not that far off, and that has huge implications.”
However, while SAM has the ability to pick up bricks, apply mortar and lay them, the robot needs to be heavily supervised. Human workers still need to set up the robot, supervise health and safety and assist with laying bricks at difficult angles, as well as clearing up, according to Construction Robotics. So while human brickies might be worried by the idea of a robot doing their job faster and better, but Professor Kohler insisted: “This will be a game-changer in construction.
“I think that in the next five to 10 years, we are going to see mobile robots on the construction site, but they are not going to replace humans. They will actually collaborate with humans, so the best of each kind of skills come together.”
Live Art Performance EMOTICON by Tom Estes for Communication Futures DRHA 2014 at The Old Royal Naval College.
Many of us recognize robotic automation as an inevitably disruptive force. However, in a classic example of optimism bias, while approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that robots will inevitably perform most of the work currently done by human beings during the next 50 years, about 80% also believe their current jobs will either “definitely” or “probably” exist in their current form within the same timeframe. Somehow, we believe our livelihoods will be safe. They’re not: every commercial sector will be affected by robotic automation in the next several years.
Once confined to the pages of futuristic dystopian fictions, the field of robotics promises to be the most profoundly disruptive technological shift since the industrial revolution. Two centuries ago this year, 64 men were brought to trial in York, England. Their crime? They were skilled weavers who fought back against the rising tide of power looms they feared would put them out of work. The Luddites spent two years burning mills and destroying factory machinery, and the British government was not amused. Of the 64 men charged in 1813, 25 were transported to Australia and 17 were led to the gallows.
Since then, Luddite has become a derisive term for anyone afraid of new technology. After all, the weavers turned out to be wrong. Power looms put them out of work, but in the long run automation made the entire workforce more productive. Everyone still had jobs—just different ones. Some ran the new power looms, others found work no one could have imagined just a few decades before, in steel mills, automobile factories, and railroad lines. In the end, this produced wealth for everyone, because, after all, someone still had to make, run, and maintain the machines. But that was then. During the Industrial Revolution, machines were limited to performing physical tasks. The Digital Revolution is different because computers can perform cognitive tasks too, and that means machines will eventually be able to run themselves. When that happens, they won’t just put individuals out of work temporarily. Entire classes of workers will be out of work permanently. In other words, the Luddites weren’t wrong. They were just 200 years too early. And as large swaths of the population lose their jobs, the only viable solution might be for the government to institute a universal basic income, which would mean paying every resident a fixed amount of money to cover their needs.
A 2013 study by Oxford University’s Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will potentially be replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years. Those individuals working in transportation, logistics, office management and production are likely to be the first to lose their jobs to robots, according to the report. In less developed countries, the potential for job loss is more severe. A2016 analysis from the World Bank estimated that roughly two-thirds of all jobs in developing nations around the globe are susceptible to replacement by automation. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SolarCity, Tesla, and SpaceX, recently declared that a universal basic income was a reasonable next step for the U.S. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,”Musk told CNBC. “Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”
This idea of giving people money for nothing is a real adjustment for people. It goes against our basic values, a Protestant work ethic and all. That said, there is currently one privately-funded, short-term pilot program being run by the Silicon Valley accelerator, Y Combinator, in California. The goal is to see how people react in the U.S., says Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator Group. The program gives “unconditional” payments to selected residents of Oakland. The administrators write, “we hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.” If it is successful, the plan is to follow up the pilot with a larger, longer-term program.
“I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of this at a national scale,” says Altman, in a blog post about the project. “50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.”