Back to Work In A COVID World

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot      September 17, 2021

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Back to Work In A COVID World
Robot security guard
COVID-19 has changed the world. The effects of this devastating virus have made a return to life-as-usual unlikely. Dr. Vinayak Kumar, a physician at the Mayo Clinic, and Ram Prasad Modalavalasa, COO of E-Health Now, have written, “After every major crisis, humanity is forced to identify weaknesses (in the status quo) and evolve accordingly. The 2020 pandemic, in its aftermath, is set to change life for a very long time.” Since the virus has not been a locally contained event, the entire global community has been affected.
The result is a worldwide sea change
It’s different than localized events like Sudanese Child Soldiers or Chilean earthquakes or a 9-11 that create sweeping regional changes. In all nations, commerce and culture have been shaken up. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The pandemic has changed how we work, learn and interact as social distancing guidelines have led to a more virtual existence, both personally and professionally.”

If you are wondering why there is not such a great rush of people clamoring for jobs, it is important to understand that workers are finding a very changed employment landscape. Producers of goods and services have not been idle in finding creative, new ways to get their products and services to market.

Robotic surgery
Robot dog walker
Robots and AI (artificial intelligence)
According to Kumar and Modalavalasa, “The pandemic has helped identify work roles that can be downsized or replaced with technology…while retaining productivity.” Bring on the robots. During 9-11, Packbots, i-robots, were used to work with humans for the first time, digging through the rubble of the World Trade Center disaster. I-robots were taken right out of the research labs to work in small or dangerous, sometimes poisonous spaces, their sensors able to see what humans could not. We have come a long way in the partnership between man and machine in the last 20 years. Because of the present pandemic, there has been an accelerated focus on advanced technologies to replace human workers.

Today, robots do everything from stocking and shipping inventory to micro surgery. Long used in the manufacturing sector, robots have moved into the service sector of the economy These are “contact jobs,” jobs that require interfacing with humans. The list of jobs machines can do is growing exponentially. People replaced by self-checking kiosks include cashiers. Amazon is opening two cashier-less Whole Foods stores in 2022. Fast food workers are losing jobs to robots. White Castle has a burger grilling robot. For the foodies, 3D printing technology is creating gourmet pastas.

Add AI into the mix, and you get robotic journalism. MSN reports, “Robots have begun writing the news, though their abilities are still limited generally to writing reports based on specific datasets. The Washington Post and UK’s Press Association employ automatons to write sports and election coverage. Yahoo Sports uses technology for its fantasy football leagues, while Bloomberg News’ Cyborg program converts financial reports into digestible articles. To compensate for lost ad revenue, MSN laid off dozens of editors in favor of content-processing AIs.”
Middle managers are being replaced by AI software programs that input data, review performance and optimize efficiency. “Spot-spraying automatons and optical sorting machines, which use hyperspectral cameras to analyze foods at a chemical level, are just two examples of innovations reducing the need for human labor in agriculture,” reports Jeff Rindskopf for MSN.

During the pandemic, FedX and UPS and other delivery companies had pilots and drivers working seven days a week, around the clock, and they still needed more help. That fueled the focus on the development of robots in the supply chain. The use of delivery drones, aerial and terrestrial, have found all kinds of applications. Drones have been used to deliver medications and food. They are used for security along the border. Equipped with facial recognition, they are used to monitor crowds in public places. Building and Safety has droned the entire Canyon, surveying your property as SCE has done with all their power lines. A lot of man hours not necessary.

Military and law enforcement robots can perform tasks from assassinations to private security patrol to hazardous duty like bomb diffusion. AI can fly planes, pilot ships, drive cars, trucks and trains. My personal favorite, AI Codex, now about five to ten years away from being ready, can code for you. If you write a paragraph, this amazing technology can translate natural speech to code. It can build a website for you! It can design a movie poster for you. It can write a novel for you. It can design and build a house for you. It can…Oh, Wowie…it can, and will, do a lot!

Where Do Humans Fit In?
The key word for the future of the man-machine relationship is retraining. Raise your children to be flexible and nimble. Yes, lots of jobs will be lost to AI and Robots, but lots of new jobs will emerge, jobs we don’t even have a name for yet. (Look back at my article “Farmers in Lab Coats.”) Justin Lokitz, author of “Design a Better Business” writes, “[if] history has taught us anything, it’s that disruptive paradigm shifting business models not only create a fortune for the first movers, they lay the foundation for other new business models, new market entrants, and new jobs to follow. Yes, robots will replace humans for many jobs, just as innovative farming equipment replaced humans and horses during the industrial revolution. However, in the wake of these changes, humans will be needed to create and deliver value in brand new ways for brand new business models.”
No going back!
Paula Labrot

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