Where machines could replace humans
Written by Emanuela Lertora
Your smartphone and computer are likely to be using Siri, Cortana, or Google Now. These are personal AI assistants that interpret what you are saying and provide solutions. Other applications of AI that surround us are search engines, image recognition (e.g. Google Goggles), spam filters, online help bots, telephone bots, and online ad targeting.
At the high profile end of the spectrum there are also examples like Google’s Driverless Cars, and the recent Go competition between Korean Grandmaster Lee Sedol and Google’s AlphaGo (won by the bot).
AP (Associated Press) has been using automation to increase capacity and reduce costs. According to Journalism.co.uk, AP’s business reporters were producing about 300 stories per quarter on topics such as net income and sales. Since automation, the volume of stories has increased to 3,700 per quarter. AP has been able to use this automation to move their skilled resources away from churning out earnings reports and towards hunting for stories that go beyond the bare numbers.
AP’s use of automation provides some interesting insight into timelines. They started testing automation in 2012, but it was not until 2014 that they used automation for semi-live testing. The first step was to let automation produce the earnings reports, with the journalists fine-tuning copy before publication. By October 2014, AP moved beyond this double-check system and increased productivity.
AP are hoping to reach 4,700 reports per quarter, and beyond that be able to use their automation journalism on any topic that uses structured data.
With robot Journalism news articles are generated by computer programs. Through artificial intelligence software, stories are produced automatically by machines rather than human reporters. These programs interpret, organize, and present data in human-readable ways. Typically, the process involves an algorithm that scans large amounts of provided data, selects from an assortment of pre-programmed article structures, orders key points, and inserts details such as names, places, amounts, rankings, statistics, and other figures. The output can also be customized to fit a certain voice, tone, or style.
The Financial Analyst sector
The pace of change in AI is dazzling, as the highlights below illustrate. The speed of innovation and the large sums of money being invested in it dictates that change is happening – and it could be much faster and more profound than might have been expected.
Celonis, as reported by Bloomberg, recently received $27 million for an AI application that seeks to compete with the consultancy services offered by the likes of McKinsey and Bain. Celonis works by taking in a wide range of operational and transactional data, identifying opportunities to improve corporate performance. Human financial analysts can no longer compete with artificially intelligent financial analysis software that can read and recognize trends in historic data to predict future market moves. It’s no wonder that financial analyst jobs could be the worst hit in the estimated 30% of banking sector jobs lost to AI in the next five to 10 years.
Food and Retail industry
The rise of automation in the fast-food industry has made headlines in recent months, as chains such as Panera and McDonald’s have heavily invested in tech that threatens to eventually replace human workers. Robots can make sushi, noodles, burgers, and pancakes. Now the grocery and retail industry is looking to get in on automation as well. Walmart recently patented a system of self-driving shopping carts with mini robots that can complete a long list of duties once reserved for human employees. These motorized units can potentially move containers; scan, retrieve, and deliver products; check inventory; retrieve trash; and even connect with customers.
The Hospitality industry
Smart mirrors: The next time you’re brushing your teeth, you might encounter a smart mirror that lets you read the news and check the weather. I read that a Google engineer was unsatisfied with other smart mirrors. So he developed a mirror that could tell him what to wear in the morning and even when it’s his friends’ birthdays.
Smart floors: A German company, Future Shape, is developing this technology with the hopes that it will soon be within the reach of average consumers. Future Shape is focusing on many applications, not the least of which is what it calls Sensfloor to monitor elderly people who live alone and run the risk of falling down.
IoT comes to hotels: A plan I’ve seen floating is also to allow mobile phones to set the temperature and light controls and even brew coffee. So why all the robotic fuss? Some economists say labor costs. The Online Travel Reservation and Management System (better known as OTRAMS) estimates that the money global hotel chains spend on labor accounts for more than half of all operational costs in the hospitality sector. The need for efficient labor controls is essential for companies in this challenging sector to keep costs down and maintain consistent service. Automation on a mass scale might be an answer to this issue.
Manual labor jobs are also under threat by automation. Robotic bricklayers will soon be introduced to construction sites that enable the machines to replace two to three human workers each, reports Technology Review. SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) can lay up to 1,200 bricks a day, compared to the 300 to 500 a human can do. While a human is still required to work with SAM to complete the more nuanced tasks, the use of SAM reduces the need for the three other bricklayers it would take to do the same job. Other on-site construction jobs such as crane operators and bulldozer drivers can also expect to see their positions filled by AI-controlled machines in the next decade.
It’s possible that we could see actors looking as young in movies as they did when they first debuted on the big screen. Recently, Hollywood has taken a liking to advanced CGI techniques that allow even deceased actors to be resurrected from the dead–the most notable example being Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin CGI resurrection in Rogue One: a Star Wars Story. In the same 2016 movie, Carrie Fisher also appeared as the 21-year-old Princess Leia from the 1977 Star Wars film. It’s possible that if both studios and audiences embrace the CGI resurrection technology, there will be fewer jobs for new potential movie stars in the future as the same beloved stars of today (and yesterday) could keep staring and “acting” in big blockbusters for decades to come. Matter of fact, the use of CGI to bring actors to the big screen was recently the subject of an excellent sci-fi flick called The Congress, starring Robin Wright as herself.
Resources and References
- Where machine could replace humans – and where they can’t (yet) – McKinsey
- AP (Associated Press) uses automation to increase story output tenfold – Journalism
- Automated journalism
- Bet you didn’t see this coming: 10 jobs that will be replaced by robots