This post is part of KQED’s Do Now project. Do Now is a weekly activity for students and the public to engage and respond to current issues using social media. Do Now aims to build civic engagement and digital literacy for learners of all ages. This post was written by the the following youth from the Science News Team within the California Academy of Sciences’ TechTeens program: Mathew L., Maggie Y., Ori L., Sophie H.,  Darrah B., Alex B. and Alvin S.

Do Now

Are the benefits of using robots in the workforce worth the risk of job loss? #DoNowRobots

How to Do Now

Do Now by posting your response on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Flickr, Google +, etc.

Be sure to include @KQEDedspace and #DoNowRobots. Remember: Back up your argument with supporting evidence. Link to legitimate sources that support your view.

Go here for more tips for using Do Now, using Twitter for teaching, and using other digital tools.


Learn More About Robots

Since their introduction into the economy, robots have played key roles in manufacturing and agriculture. Robots are programmed to complete repetitive, menial tasks and are highly efficient. Robots can work virtually nonstop, unlike human workers who need costly job perks like health benefits, time to eat and sleep, and most of all, wages. In the past, robots have been largely confined to the manufacturing industry, but lately robots have been creeping into new industries and aspects of human life. You may even have a robot in your home! Millions of households across the world have robots that vacuum the floor. Robots are not just being used for petty tasks like home cleaning, but are even utilized in scientific labs to carry out monotonous yet precise tasks, such as micropipetting. Thanks to drastic advancements in software engineering, robots are now capable of completing much more complex tasks, and soon, they may completely revolutionize the workplace by superseding millions of human workers.

Eirik Newth/Flickr

The Debate

Pros

Robotics are becoming a cheap and efficient source of labor. Machines have been replacing many dangerous or boring human jobs, allowing people to leave the labor industry and start working in more artistic and intellectual fields. According to the company RobotWorx, robots do jobs better suited for machines, allowing humans to apply their knowledge to more deserving tasks. Business owners also favor robots compared to humans, as machines produce more consistent and accurate results at lower costs. According to John Tamny of Forbes magazine, the robot industry “will ultimately be the biggest job [creator]”, and demand even more high-tech jobs in both programming and manufacturing.

Cons

Despite their potential benefits, many people are worried about the effects that automation of simple labor tasks may have on the economy and workforce. Every year, more businesses replace their unskilled workers with automated machines. Within the next 20 years, many jobs, including electrical equipment assemblers, telemarketers, and retail workers, are predicted to have a 95 percent chance or higher of becoming automated. Already, companies such as McDonalds have begun initiatives to replace their human employees by introducing computerized kiosks, which could “reduce required labor by 30 percent.” In addition, there is fear that machines will one day turn on their creators. While this fear originates from science fiction and Hollywood, it might eventually develop into a real threat. Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks (BRETT) is a robot, developed at the University of California at Berkeley, that has been programmed with the ability to learn. In a video, BRETT learns through trial and error how to construct a child’s toy. With this kind of learning technology, there is no telling what these machines will be able to accomplish in the not so far future.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of implementing robots into our society, are the benefits worth the costs? Should we risk the possibility of losing our jobs for increased convenience?


Do Next

Do Next takes the online conversation to the next level: these are suggestions for ways to go out into your community and investigate how the topic featured in this Do Now plays out in people’s lives. Use digital storytelling tools and social media to share your story and take action. Make sure to tag your creations with #DoNowRobots.

  • Come up with an idea for your dream robot. Think about things in your daily life that your robot might be able to do to allow you to do more productive, creative activities. What will you robot help you with?
  • Research the history of robots in the manufacturing industry. Create a timeline with Timetoast highlighting major innovations in workforce automation. Add descriptions about their subsequent impact on the industry.

More Resources

INTERACTIVE: Will A Robot Take Your Job (BBC)
Do you know what your dream job is? Explore the likelihood that it will be automated in the future using this interactive search tool. 

ARTICLE: What Is A Robot? (The Atlantic)
This article helps define the human relationship with robots and walks through the history of robotic design. 

OPINION: Robots in the Workplace (The Washington Post)
Automation in the workplace has impacted various industries over the last century. Read more about past and current shifts in the workforce in response to new robotic technology.


KQED Education partners with phenomenal organizations to bring you the Science Do Now activities. This post was written by the following youth from the Science News Team within the California Academy of Sciences’ TechTeens program.

The TechTeens are youth leaders who use digital media to develop and communicate science stories for the public.

Will Robots Replace Us at Work? 23 August,2017California Academy of Sciences

  • Zach Shubella

    According to https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/17/yes-the-robots-will-steal-our-jobs-and-thats-fine/, “almost half of those currently employed in the United States are at risk of being put out of work by automation in the next decade or two.” That’s scary, especially for someone that is only about to go to college. If this estimation is correct, only several years after I graduate for college I couldn’t get half the jobs I could get before. And with a population that is growing every day, by the time I’m fifty, I and everyone else in my generation could be in in serious trouble. Fortunately for me, others disagree with this perspective. According to http://www.futureofwork.com/article/details/robots-wont-take-our-jobs, rather than stealing our jobs, “the inclusion of robots in the workplace will simply create new ones and transform existing roles.” In my opinion, even though robots could take half of the existing jobs, new forms of employment will take their place. So, I believe that we should continue to progress the advancement of robots despite the risk they pose to our jobs.

  • Sean Parent

    After reports of human errors in commercial airliners that have resulted in horrendous in flight crashes and landing or take off error, NASA has begun to explore the options of planes being piloted completely by robots and air traffic control being down to one or two people compared to an entire crew of workers (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/07/science/planes-without-pilots.html?_r=0). I have always wanted to be able to be a either a commercial pilot or a fly for the United States Navy. After looking at what could really happen in the future of flight, I have realized that the possibility of flight being fully run by computers is highly likely. Software is being developed to taxi a plane from where its parked to the runway while communicating with another computer in air traffic control. This software is also controlling speed, ailerons, flaps, elevators, etcetera. The software that is being developed would also fly the plane from takeoff to landing then taxi to the next gate. Drones are already beginning to be used more for military and other uses from there, but there is at least 150 people controlling the drones mission and the drone itself is not flying itself but there is a pilot flying it from the ground rather than a software doing all of the flight control. In an Airbus plane the pilots really only do three minutes of flying while autopilot really does the rest of it. In a Boeing plane, it is seven minutes of control for the pilot. Therefore, Nasa has begun their research to make commercial airliners safer for the passengers by perhaps using software to fly the plane rather than a human pilot. However, when a plane goes down because of software failure, there is less of a chance of the plane being saved or even maybe sending out a distress call to the nearest air traffic control tower. This may cause the loss of more lives due to flight failure than if humans were flying the plan and tried to save the plane that way or even send out distress signals.

  • Ben LI

    Robot in the workforce are talking job away from us human. For example Mc Donald has those machine that take your order which lead to less job for human. Robot are also great since they help us with job that are tedious and repetitive. Robot is a form of cheap labor meaning company would make more money so they would’t have to charge more for their product. Robot would reduce 30% of labor which is a lot of job for people who are less fortunate. I am for the development of robot because it can help the elderly and people who are too busy to do the simple stuff like cleaning their house.

  • Julian Kirk

    I think robots are a good and bad thing. Probably more good than bad though for the most part. Robots are bad because they take away jobs from humans like the ones in fast food or other food services. When someone first gets out of high school odds are that there are not many jobs they can even apply for outside of food service and if robots are doing all the food service jobs then there is even less work for people who are just starting to work. Robots are good because they generally make less mistakes than humans, they are cheaper to maintain since once you get it all set up you don’t have to spend anymore money on them unless they need some repairs or something for some reason. Robots can also be used for things that humans can’t do so that is always good. Robots could also be used for people who need more help or attention than most other people or if you are just lazy.

  • starsfromabove

    My dream robot would help me complete my daily tasks such as homework, cleaning, and cooking. That way, I can focus more on improving my computer oriented skills, reading skills, and writing skills. Also, I think having robots would lead the world to become more efficient because robots would be able to help us complete tasks that usually take most of our day. Therefore, robots are a great idea for the future of humanity.

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