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Robots displace millions of Manufacturing Workers in US: Automation getting Cheaper and more Common

While some politicians blame trade for the job losses, most economists say automation is mainly to blame as robots do routine factory tasks previously done by humans

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US, April 15, 2017: The impact of automation on U.S. jobs is open to debate. Robots have displaced millions of manufacturing workers, and automation is getting cheaper and more common, raising concerns it will eventually supplant far more workers in the services sector of the economy, which includes everything from truck driving to banking.

University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Ed Hess says we are just starting to see automation’s impact. “It is going to be broad and it is going to be deep,” he said, adding that “tens of millions” of jobs could be at risk.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared already.

While some politicians blame trade for the job losses, most economists say automation is mainly to blame as robots do routine factory tasks previously done by humans.

Hess calls self-driving cars and trucks a threat to millions of human jobs, and says fast-food workers are also vulnerable, as companies install electronic kiosks to take restaurant orders. McDonalds says displaced workers will be reassigned to other tasks.

The professor says research shows nearly half of U.S. jobs could be automated, including retail store clerks, doctors who scan X-rays for disease, administrative workers, legal staffers, and middle managers.

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Future of jobs

Starting more than a century ago, advancing technology changed the United States from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy. Displaced farm hands eventually found factory work, but the transition took years. This new transition may also take a time because, Hess says, “We’re not going to anywhere produce the number of jobs that we automate.”

But 50 years of experience in banking shows that while automation may change the industry, it does not necessarily end jobs for humans.

The first Automatic Teller Machines, or ATMs, were installed 50 years ago, and there are now 420,000 in the United States. International Monetary Fund analysis shows the number of human tellers did not drop, but rose slightly.

“Humans were doing mostly service and routine types of tasks that could be converted into more automated tasks,” Tremont Capital Group’s Sam Ditzion said. But “the humans then became far more valuable in customer service and in sales in these branches.”

In a Skype interview, Ditzion said that while automation can be “scary,” the oversight of ATMs created new kinds of work for “tens of thousands of people.”

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Automation grows

A report by Redwood Software and the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) says surging investment and falling prices will help robotics grow.

Redwood’s software handles business processes that are repetitive, rule-bound and tedious.

CEBR Economist David Whitaker says as growing fleets of robots take over mundane tasks, higher productivity could bring higher wages for some human workers. He says people who want to stay employed must hone skills that robots can’t handle, such as unpredictable work or the need for an emotional human connection.

One example, according to Alex Bentley of Blue Prism software, is a program that helps law firms examine visa applications. The robot enters data but gets help from a human partner with problems such as missing information. Bentley says some human jobs have been lost, but in other cases displaced workers move within the firm to new work, particularly jobs that are “customer-centric.”

U.S. Senator Chris Coons says Germany and other nations use training programs to help their citizens get and keep jobs in a changing economy. The Democrat says America’s competitors invest six times what the U.S. does in skills development and workforce training, while Washington has slashed funding for such programs. Coons and a Republican colleague, Senator Thom Tillis, are seeking more help for schools, companies, workers and government agencies operating programs to upgrade the workforce.

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New opportunities

While workers need to make some changes, philosopher and professor Ed Freeman of UVA’s Darden School of Business says companies also need to rethink their basic purpose. He says businesses must do more than just maximize value for shareholders.

“I need red blood cells to live,” he said. “It doesn’t follow that the purpose of my life is to make red blood cells. Companies need profits to live, it doesn’t follow that the purpose of a company is to make profits. We have to think through this idea about what purpose is in business.”

Freeman says he is “optimistic” because many jobs, such as creating applications for smartphones that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, are creating thousands of opportunities. He is also encouraged by his many students who, he says, bring new ideas, passion and energy to the task of starting businesses that will create new kinds of jobs.

Freeman is convinced that the problem isn’t the tsunami of lost jobs, it is the lack of “really good ideas” for creating a safety net for people who will lose jobs to automation.

Many experts worry about growing levels of automation — particularly advanced forms known as artificial intelligence — hurting employment for U.S. workers.

But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says it will be “50 or 100 years” before artificial intelligence takes American jobs. In an interview with Mike Allen of AXIOS, Mnuchin said, “I think we are so far away from that, [it is] not even on my radar screen.”
-VOA

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AI To Recognize Individuals Emotions Using A Photographic Repository

Not for police, government

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Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of the Boston-based artificial intelligence firm Affectiva, is pictured in Boston, April 23, 2018. Affectiva builds face-scanning technology for detecting emotions, but its founders decline business opportunities that involve spying on people.
Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of the Boston-based artificial intelligence firm Affectiva, is pictured in Boston, April 23, 2018. Affectiva builds face-scanning technology for detecting emotions, but its founders decline business opportunities that involve spying on people. VOA

When a CIA-backed venture capital fund took an interest in Rana el Kaliouby’s face-scanning technology for detecting emotions, the computer scientist and her colleagues did some soul-searching — and then turned down the money.

“We’re not interested in applications where you’re spying on people,” said el Kaliouby, the CEO and co-founder of the Boston startup Affectiva. The company has trained its artificial intelligence systems to recognize if individuals are happy or sad, tired or angry, using a photographic repository of more than 6 million faces.

Recent advances in AI-powered computer vision have accelerated the race for self-driving cars and powered the increasingly sophisticated photo-tagging features found on Facebook and Google. But as these prying AI “eyes” find new applications in store checkout lines, police body cameras and war zones, the tech companies developing them are struggling to balance business opportunities with difficult moral decisions that could turn off customers or their own workers.

El Kaliouby said it’s not hard to imagine using real-time face recognition to pick up on dishonesty — or, in the hands of an authoritarian regime, to monitor reaction to political speech in order to root out dissent. But the small firm, which spun off from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research lab, has set limits on what it will do.

The company has shunned “any security, airport, even lie-detection stuff,” el Kaliouby said. Instead, Affectiva has partnered with automakers trying to help tired-looking drivers stay awake, and with consumer brands that want to know whether people respond to a product with joy or disgust.

Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of the Boston-based artificial intelligence firm Affectiva, demonstrates the company's facial recognition technology, in Boston, April 23, 2018.
Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of the Boston-based artificial intelligence firm Affectiva, demonstrates the company’s facial recognition technology, in Boston, April 23, 2018. VOA

New qualms

Such queasiness reflects new qualms about the capabilities and possible abuses of all-seeing, always-watching AI camera systems — even as authorities are growing more eager to use them.

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s deadly shooting at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, police said they turned to face recognition to identify the uncooperative suspect. They did so by tapping a state database that includes mug shots of past arrestees and, more controversially, everyone who registered for a Maryland driver’s license.

Initial information given to law enforcement authorities said that police had turned to facial recognition because the suspect had damaged his fingerprints in an apparent attempt to avoid identification. That report turned out to be incorrect and police said they used facial recognition because of delays in getting fingerprint identification.

In June, Orlando International Airport announced plans to require face-identification scans of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights by the end of this year. Several other U.S. airports have already been using such scans for some departing international flights.

Chinese firms and municipalities are already using intelligent cameras to shame jaywalkers in real time and to surveil ethnic minorities, subjecting some to detention and political indoctrination. Closer to home, the overhead cameras and sensors in Amazon’s new cashier-less store in Seattle aim to make shoplifting obsolete by tracking every item shoppers pick up and put back down.

Concerns over the technology can shake even the largest tech firms. Google, for instance, recently said it will exit a defense contract after employees protested the military application of the company’s AI technology. The work involved computer analysis of drone video footage from Iraq and other conflict zones.

Google guidelines

Similar concerns about government contracts have stirred up internal discord at Amazon and Microsoft. Google has since published AI guidelines emphasizing uses that are “socially beneficial” and that avoid “unfair bias.”

Amazon, however, has so far deflected growing pressure from employees and privacy advocates to halt Rekognition, a powerful face-recognition tool it sells to police departments and other government agencies.

Saying no to some work, of course, usually means someone else will do it. The drone-footage project involving Google, dubbed Project Maven, aimed to speed the job of looking for “patterns of life, things that are suspicious, indications of potential attacks,” said Robert Work, a former top Pentagon official who launched the project in 2017.

While it hurts to lose Google because they are “very, very good at it,” Work said, other companies will continue those efforts.

Commercial and government interest in computer vision has exploded since breakthroughs earlier in this decade using a brain-like “neural network” to recognize objects in images. Training computers to identify cats in YouTube videos was an early challenge in 2012. Now, Google has a smartphone app that can tell you which breed.

A major research meeting — the annual Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, held in Salt Lake City in June — has transformed from a sleepy academic gathering of “nerdy people” to a gold rush business expo attracting big companies and government agencies, said Michael Brown, a computer scientist at Toronto’s York University and a conference organizer.

Brown said researchers have been offered high-paying jobs on the spot. But few of the thousands of technical papers submitted to the meeting address broader public concerns about privacy, bias or other ethical dilemmas. “We’re probably not having as much discussion as we should,” he said.

Not for police, government

Startups are forging their own paths. Brian Brackeen, the CEO of Miami-based facial recognition software company Kairos, has set a blanket policy against selling the technology to law enforcement or for government surveillance, arguing in a recent essay that it “opens the door for gross misconduct by the morally corrupt.”

Boston-based startup Neurala, by contrast, is building software for Motorola that will help police-worn body cameras find a person in a crowd based on what they’re wearing and what they look like. CEO Max Versace said that “AI is a mirror of the society,” so the company chooses only principled partners.

Also read: Thanks To Artificial Intelligence, Radio Journalist Regains His Voice

“We are not part of that totalitarian, Orwellian scheme,” he said. (VOA)