When guests roll up to the Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, set to open its doors this summer, they will step out and hand their bags over to a bellhop. They'll walk in and check in at the front desk and wander in to find their room. The next morning, their room will be cleaned by hotel staff.
All in all, a normal scene that plays out a billion times all over the world every day. Except in the case of the Henn-na Hotel, guests could very well spend their entire time there without seeing a human being. Most of the functions of the hotel will be performed by advanced robots. Instead of dealing with a living person to check in, guests will interact with this "actroid," capable of conversing in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English.
While there will be human staff on hand to smooth over any quirks in the system (and there are sure to be a lot of quirks to work out initially), the president of the company behind the new hotel said his goal is for 90 percent of operations to run by robots.
This is a fun and quirky story, but it also is a very real pointer to what the future holds for human employment. Make no mistake about it — robots are going to take our jobs.
The growth and development curve of technology hangs out somewhere between linear and exponential growth. More advanced technology enables even more advanced technology which enables even more advanced technology. Knowledge begets knowledge. Things are speeding up at a faster rate.
Think about how quickly our idea of what is normal is changing. Twenty years ago the Internet was a novelty; today it is an fundamental driver and enabler of our modern lives and global society. We all walk around with phones in our pockets that have computing capabilities that would have bested million-dollar super computers from the 1960s.
And those phones get better, a lot better, every single year. We get more pixels, more hard drive space, more RAM. We can do more, do it quicker, and do it flashier.
But with every jump in phone specs comes a hidden behind-the-scenes jump in robot specs. Robots are riding the technological advancement curve and the worlds of business and industry are squeezing them for everything they're worth.
It's simple economics — robots are cheaper than humans. They don't have to be faster or better, they just need to be cheaper. Real world robots, and their virtual cousins the software bots, can work all day and night for just a trickle of electricity. They don't get hurt, or need vacation, or clamor to unionize. They are the perfect, obedient worker.
And as the video below lays out, there are not many jobs in the world that are safe from robotic encroachment. Behind the obvious candidates for displacement by robots (like factory workers) are the millions of people involved in the transportation sector, in retail and office work, and even in the law and medical fields. Even my job as a writer is not safe — there is already a service that provides algorithmically-written content for professional news organizations like the Associated Press.
Spend some time and watch this:
This is something that we need to start talking about as a society now. I'm as excited about the idea of the Google self-driving car as the next tech nerd, but the political wonk in me knows we need to plan for how to help the millions of taxi, shuttle and limo drivers who will be out of a job when self-driving cars hit the road in earnest. And the secretaries. And bookkeepers. And lawyers. And doctors. And bloggers. And hotel check-in staff.
How about your job? How safe are you from the robots and bots?
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