Are You Afraid Robots Will Take Your Job?

Robots are not taking our jobs. It’s a good story to create eye-catching headlines and generate clicks, but the numbers do not support it in any way.  Michael Handel of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has published a paper where he carefully analyzes job losses across many professions. He finds that job losses follow long-term trends, and there is no hint of the dramatic changes predicted by people who make a living from predicting that the sky will shortly fall.

That matches what I see in the organizations I work with. Traditional IT projects regularly fail, and AI projects have an even higher failure rate. They might deliver something, but too often, it turns out to be impossible to move an AI experiment out of the lab and into productive use.

Additionally, in the cases where AI does provide real business benefits, it handles one specific task and not a whole job. All of our AI today is very narrowly trained for one task. That frees up workers to do more useful things with their time, making them more productive.

For example, the illustration for this post is made by me and the Midjourney AI. It was told to illustrate “the robots are not taking our jobs.” We ran a few iterations where I selected the best of its suggestions until we came up with this image.

Pay attention to the rules

It’s probably time to start paying attention to the rules. Inspired by the Silicon Valley ethos of moving fast and breaking things, many organizations have been rolling out technology without much concern for existing rules and regulations.

Uber, Airbnb, and the myriad e-scooter startups are on the back foot all over Europe as the state reasserts its authority. Even in the U.S., regulators have started to put their foot down. Tesla is having to reprogram 50,000 vehicles that were intentionally programmed to disrespect stop signs. If the car was driving slowly and couldn’t see anybody else around an intersection, it would ignore the stop sign and continue into the intersection. That’s illegal, but humans do it all the time. It turns out authorities were less than thrilled to see bad human behavior programmed into Tesla’s cars.

We have rules for a reason. Some of them are ridiculous (like the ubiquitous cooking consent), but good citizenship includes adhering to the rules until you can persuade the rule-maker to change them. Don’t be like Tesla.

Beware of Un-updatable Devices

A hundred million IoT devices are open to hacking. It turns out there is a whole slew of flaws in four different basic TCP/IP implementations. Since many IoT devices don’t have auto-update capabililty, and many don’t have updatable firmware at all, all of these devices are simply waiting to be subverted by hackers.

In order news, a startup has produced an autonomous robot that drives around the farmer’s field all by itself, zapping what it considers weeds with lasers. What could possibly go wrong?

If you are deploying any IoT technology, consider carefully how the devices will be updated with new software. Parts of the IoT industry have a sell-and-forget mindset, and that will embed ticking timebombs in your infrastructure.