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Robots are coming for your job – By Clare Jenkins

Robots Are Coming For your Job

Getting a job is hard. An endless stream of resumés, applications and interviews will often end with prospective employees sitting at their computers with nothing to show besides a well-versed rejection email, or worse yet, nothing at all. Yet they continue to barrel, full-forced, with a fistful of cover letters and references addressed and targeted to every possible employer willing to hear why they are the most qualified, experienced candidate for that job.

Why? Because unemployment is scary. What’s even more frightening is the theory of technological unemployment, which is less of a theory and more of an impending reality.
Machines replacing humans in the job market seems like something you might see in a sci-fi film about the distant future. In reality, it’s not that far away. In fact, it’s already here.

Federico Pistono is the author of Robots Will Steal Your Job But That’s OK: How to Survive the Economic Collapse and Be Happy, A book that explores how technological advances will affect the workforce in our lifetime. Pistono also writes about what he believes it means to be happy, and gives suggestions regarding how to prevent a societal collapse. Pistono says he doesn’t see the full automation of human jobs happening for another 40 years, if ever. However, he says that we don’t need full automation to disrupt the entire socio-economic system. “Even replacing 50 per cent of the workforce, while producing a mere five per cent new jobs would be catastrophic,” Pistono says. “We need to think of solutions before that happens, like reducing the workweek and experimenting with unconditional basic income.” But, according to Pistono, the robots have already gone to work.
He says any jobs regarding the production and distribution chain like packaging, storage, even food and manufacturing have already noticed the impact of robotics. Another field the bots are already taking over is that of the transportation industry. Uber is just one of the apps that lets you connect with a driver in your area willing to drive you to locations within your city at a cheaper rate than most taxi companies.
The company has more than 160,000 drivers in 250 cities, including Toronto. The app, which has more than 8 million users, is already threatening the taxi industry – and here’s where the “sci-fi” part comes in. With Uber’s recent announcement that it will be replacing all of its drivers with self-driving cars, the future doesn’t look good for the 70 million people currently employed in transportation.
Uber isn’t the only company announcing big changes.
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“I felt what I had been doing had been pointless.” John Altamore
Google recently announced its prototype for its new autonomous car, and say it plans to build approximately 100 vehicles and test them this summer. Currently humans make up a third of the transportation industry’s cost. Google’s robotic car costs $150,000 in equipment.
Of course, there is some question as to whether or not people will trust a machine to do our driving for us. Google says that its new car will actually be safer than a human driver, as it is equipped with sensors, lasers and a GPS system. The autonomous car, unlike a human driver, never speeds, crashes, gets tired or distracted or breaks any rules of the road.
Apple is always at the forefront of technology, after all, they introduced us to Siri. The company recently replaced its telephone and email representatives with an automated system. John Altomare worked as a customer service representative for a company that worked for Apple. His job was to answer the emails customers would send if they had any problems with their devices, or accidentally purchased an app or song. Altomare and around 800 other employees were laid-off when the company made the switch. “Now my job is done by an automated filtration system that filters the email by topic,” he says. Altomare says he took pride in his job, consistently scoring 95 per cent customer satisfaction and hitting all of his targets.
“I felt what I had been doing had been pointless. When someone came along and praised me for the good job I’d been doing but then turned around and said we’ve got a piece of code that can do it just as well as you but for a fraction of the price, you feel undervalued. Why would I give 100 per cent in this job if what I’m doing is just going to be replaced by a machine,” he says. Altomare says he doesn’t think the automated machine that replaced him can do the job as well as he can. He says that often overcoming a language barrier in an email was the biggest problem. Even with a human on the other end he and the customer would send a few emails back and forth for him to fully understand what the situation was. With an automated system, Apple customers may be bounced around from forum to forum and end up wasting four or five days not getting the refund he could have provided in minutes. He also says an automated system doesn’t provide the same sincerity a human could. “I’ve made mistakes [as a customer] and made purchases I didn’t mean to make and sometimes that’s really frustrating, but knowing that somebody is on the other line actually trying to help me sometimes makes a world of difference.”
Maybe it’s not all bad – it could be an opportunity to fulfill what we’d imagined for ourselves before the 21st century lowered our expectations for personal happiness. After all: If robots can do our jobs, what exactly does that say about us?
“Why would I give 100 per cent in this job if what I’m doing is just going to be replaced by a machine.” - John Altomare
It took Altomare five weeks of comprehensive training and two weeks of practice on the floor – a process that is obsolete now that a robot is doing the job. “I think that it’s good for finances and profit. You’re not paying 50 people to do the job,” Altomare, now unemployed, says. But he says if he emailed in with a problem and a robot was on the other end, the quality of customer service would decrease and he might not return to that business again. Shaun Levy works for Great Connections, a Toronto-based full cycle employment service agency. They provide high-volume part-time and full-time staffing of up to 200 to 400 people at a time to companies. Levy says he has seen the impact that these programs have had on the job market. “They’ve definitely helped ease the manual labour portion of the practice,” he said. Levy says jobs in fields like automotive and printing have been particularly impacted. “Previously you’d have to actually take flyers and put them into newspapers. What would happen from there is all the people who used to deliver the flyers will lose their jobs. Now it’s streamlined and automated,” Levy says.
“Previously you’d have to actually take flyers and put them into newspapers. What would happen from there is all the people who used to deliver the flyers. Now it’s streamlined and automated,” - Shawn Levy

Levy says that, for the time being, robots haven’t made a huge dent on most of the job market because of the cost. “They’re very expensive to implement and time consuming to maintain. I really don’t think it’s going to eliminate all the job market or labour market anytime soon but it’s definitely in place,” he said.
Another field that might be in danger of becoming automated is childcare. Aeon Co. is the largest retailer in Asia. The company introduced a robot at a store in Japan in 2008 whose job it was to babysit children while their parents shopped. To anyone who has a child, the idea of leaving one alone with a hunk of metal and code can be a terrifying thought. But the babysitting robots can tell jokes, recognize faces, ask questions and track where children are using a radio-frequency identification chip. Morgan Basile is a nanny for three children in Guelph, Ontario. She picks them up from school, cooks them food, plays games and helps them with their homework.
Basile said she has mixed feelings on whether a child could be negatively affected by the lack of a human caregiver.“In some ways this is an advantage if there are not enough caretakers for children in a certain area,” she says.However, Basile says she doesn’t think a program could adequately perform all of the duties she can.
“Robots are not able to provide the emotional support that a human can, which I believe is an important aspect of childcare,” she says.
Basile says she also worries about the safety of the child. “I can’t imagine a child feeling as safe with a robot as they do with a human, which is an important part of childcare,” she says. Pistono says, on a different level, lawyers, accountants, journalists, and high paying white-collar jobs are also ripe for disruption.

During his 2013 appearance at TED, Pistono said humans are creating new jobs that won’t be needed in the future. He says that working for the sake of survival isn’t worth it, as an automated economy is on its way regardless. Pistono says that while we can’t win against robots, we can learn to work with them. He says that technology was designed to make our nine to five easier. Strange, then, that so many of us claim to “hate” our jobs.
Maybe it’s not all bad – it could be an opportunity to fulfill what we’d imagined for ourselves before the 21st Century lowered our expectations for personal happiness. After all: If robots can do our jobs, what exactly does that say about us?

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