Robots rising? Bring it on

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Photo from WWW.UIDAHO.EDU The first computer science department graduate at University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene, Adrian Beehner, will complete the program this spring. He is pictured here with Baxter, a 300-pound robot UI advanced robotics students are “teaching” to perform tasks.

Will robots take my job?

Wondering if you’re at risk of being replaced by a robot at work?

There’s a website that will answer that question for you.

The site uses data from a 2013 study by University of Oxford researchers and Bureau of Labor statistics to determine whether you have to worry about becoming unemployed with the ascent of artificial intelligence and robotics.

To find out if your job will be taken from you by a robot, visit https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/

The robots are coming.

Sure, some mechanical beings are already here. One might be vacuuming your living room right now, but many more will soon be infiltrating the economy and changing the American way of life.

You’ve probably heard this already, considering Coeur d’Alene was the first city in the nation to pass an ordinance authorizing the use of robots on public property. The law also allows robotic, driverless cars to operate on Coeur d’Alene roads.

But you may not know about Baxter, a 300-pound robot being “taught” skills — like how to fix a cup of coffee — by University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene computer science students who take an advanced robotics class at the Innovation Den, a tech hub in the renovated Elks building in downtown Coeur d’Alene. That’s just one of many robotics endeavors underway in North Idaho, and it’s likely more are on the way. Experts say that with accelerating advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, machines like Baxter and autonomous cars will become more commonplace very soon, especially in the workplace.

Sci-fi fabulous

or worrisome?

A December 2016 White House report “Automation, Artificial Intelligence and the Economy” forecasts that 2 to 3 million Americans who drive for a living will be replaced over the next 15 years by self-driving vehicles.

While it’s hard for researchers to anticipate which jobs will be affected — because AI is not a single technology, but a collection of technologies — it’s expected that entire job categories will transition to robots and computers that will perform many tasks now done by humans.

And Americans aren’t entirely excited about it, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 4,135 U.S. adults conducted last May.

“Although they expect certain positive outcomes from these developments, their attitudes more frequently reflect worry and concern over the implications of these technologies for society as a whole,” wrote the Pew Center’s Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson.

But there’s a

robot evolution upside

David Trilling, a researcher and writer at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, indicates the situation might not be quite so dire.

“…Mechanization has always been a feature of modern economies,” Trilling wrote, in a research review published earlier this year.

It’s just not clear how this latest economic shift will play out.

The 2016 White House report estimates that over the next 20 years, between 9 and 47 percent of American jobs that demand little training could be made obsolete by machines.

“Yet many prominent economists argue that this new age will not be so different than previous technological breakthroughs, that the gains will counter the losses,” Trilling wrote.

He pointed to ATMs as an example.

“Have they killed jobs? No, the number of bank jobs in the U.S. has increased at a healthy clip since ATMs were introduced,” Trilling wrote.

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Recent research has shown, employment didn’t fall with the advent of ATMs because the machines allowed banks to operate branch offices at lower cost, prompting them to open many more branches and offsetting the loss in teller jobs.

Experts agree, one of the keys to a successful transition to a robot-driven economy is education.

“Economists are basically unanimous: the jobs of the future will require more education and creative skills,” Trilling wrote.

He noted that the last time the U.S. faced such a challenge, in the late 19th century following the industrial revolution, the country invested heavily in high schools for all children.

Another plus: The advent of robotics will also likely keep some jobs from moving overseas, speculates Trilling.

Since machines cost about the same to operate wherever they’re located, an American company is more likely to keep a factory in a place like Ohio, where it can better protect its investment, than move to China.

“…a question is not where these automated workshops of the future will be located. It is where the robots toiling in them will be made,” Trilling wrote.

By positioning itself as a tech hub for robotics and artificial intelligence, and with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) elementary and high schools and advanced robotics classes like the University of Idaho is offering, Coeur d’Alene is already answering that question.

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