50 shades of Graham: I suppose I should be grateful as I am only third on the Robo-replacement list

Graham Spence

WHEW! I have just finished my third novel and realized I have dodged a bullet.

No sooner had I pressed the publish button when up popped a story on my computer listing the five occupations most likely to be replaced by robots in the near future.

Number three was journalists and writers. In fact, the warning was stark: “You know that great novel you’ve been planning to write? Start now, before the machines take a creative writing class.”

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So … if the pundits are right, I got my tome out in the nick of time.

Okay, most at danger in the various genres of scribblers are sports and financial writers. Technology is rocketing so fast that machines can be taught to read data, scan photos, embed videos, convert spoken word to written, correct grammar, analyze encyclopedias of research in a blink and then spit out a scoop.

Breaking news journalism will probably survive, but anything involving examination, investigation and stats is at risk of being replaced by a hack made out of wires and Kevlar without a beer problem.

As far as novel writing is concerned, this is not big news to me. I’ve long suspected that book printers are in danger of becoming systematically robotic. Even in the human world, publishers are increasingly scheduling homogenous ‘seasonal’ books.

In other words, if you want a romantic best seller over Christmas, you have a Santa seducer. Ditto crime novels, where Mr Claus is a scheming crook. Any robot can be programmed to write that.

So it seems my scribbling days are numbered. The struggling author typing in the garret will be replaced by Robo-writer, who does not need food or gallons of black coffee.

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I suppose I should be grateful as I am only third on the Robo-replacement list. Top is the ubiquitous middle manager whose job is to scrutinize spreadsheets.

Once the bedrock of most companies, mid-managers whose special knowledge of their products is used to number crunch matrixes and co-ordinate production or sales campaigns are at serious risk. A robot can be encoded to do exactly that without pension and health benefits.

Second is commodity selling, especially those which involve repeat orders. People hawking advertising or supplies are at jeopardy as a robot can do the order-taking far more cost-efficiently.

Third, as mentioned, are pen pushers and fourth are auditors. Bionic bean counting is already being used in inventory control, auditing and balance sheets. In fact, anything that involves data analysis is stepping into serious automation territory.

The fifth are doctors, but as there is such a global shortage of medicos, this is not likely to put many practitioners on the dole. However, robots make fantastic physicians and are already being used to diagnose and treat cancers.

Even better, robots are superb surgeons as their precision is 100 percent true, especially in operations such as knee replacements and eye surgery.

In fact, considering the bedside manner of many human doctors, patients may not even notice the difference.

The main question is this: where will it all end? Will we live in a world where a handful of Steve Jobs clones use alchemy to abolish the unpredictable human factor? And will the vast army of robots needed for this be contracted out to sweatshops in Asia, eliminating the global workforce?

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Maybe. The Western ruling elites are already talking about every citizen receiving statutory state welfare payments in lieu of salaries. This will enable Joe and Jane Public to be on endless holiday while robots grease the wheels of industry.

If the past is anything to go by, this brave new Robo-world will end in tears. We’ve already seen what happens in the sink estates of Europe’s cities where welfare beneficiaries tend to become addicted to state largesse and hard drugs. Add boredom to the mix, and you have a sociological nuclear bomb.

In short, a job is more than just a salary. For many, it is a sense of self-worth – of who they are. To remove that is messing with hardwired human psyche.

So yes, robots may indeed herald the next revolution. I hope not in the guillotine sense.

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