Will Robots Make Our Jobs Obsolete?

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Stock Market Robot Trading

Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are taking over jobs that are repetitive, predictable and sometimes dangerous for people to do. The impact of automation on society depends on how fast it occurs—and how quickly displaced workers transition to other forms of employment.

“What most people don’t realize is the labor market has always evolved over time. Recent advances in artificial intelligence have the potential to accelerate the rate of change,” says Jerry Kaplan, futurist and author of the book “Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

“There will be plenty of work,” he adds. “Many jobs cannot be automated with new technology. As we become wealthier, the demand for jobs increases as people spend more money.”

A 2013 study estimates that computerization puts 47% of total U.S. employment at risk. A survey by the World Economic Forum earlier this year estimates that automation will cause a net loss of more than five million jobs globally between 2015 and 2020, out of the 13.5 million the surveyed companies currently employ. A canvassing of experts by the Pew Research Center found that about 48% expect significant displacement of workers from automation by 2025, with the other 52% expecting that technology creates more jobs than it displaces.

“My view is that there is ultimately going to be less work,” says Martin Ford, futurist and author of the book “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.”

A lot of jobs—maybe half the jobs out there—are doing things that are predictable,“ Ford adds. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or even the skill level.”

A radiologist must go through years of extensive schooling, but mostly does routine work that increasingly is being aided by computers, he says. Software can generate news stories and can translate spoken language in real time.

Machines are taking on cognitive capability,” he says. “Machine learning can figure things out. It’s really disruptive. Especially deep learning. It’s just amazing.”

CyborgHowever, many of the jobs ripe for automation are low-skilled jobs, from driving to coffee-making to burger-flipping, Mr. Ford says, perhaps not entirely replacing them but greatly reducing their number.

“Technology will create jobs, but will the person driving a taxi be able to do that job? In many cases, the answer will be no,” he says.

Retraining programs and geographic mobility will be key to helping people whose work has become obsolete to change professions, Mr. Kaplan says, adding, “We need to align our social policies with the economic realities.”

These changes have happened before. Forty or 50 years ago, more than a million people, mostly women, worked as telephone operators; today, that occupation employs less than one-twentieth of that number. “Do we lament the loss of those jobs?” Mr. Kaplan asks.

New jobs will arise as we create new wants and needs that we can’t even imagine now, Mr. Kaplan says.

“Historically, average U.S. household income doubles every 40 years, but our desires and expectations for our standard of living rise at the same rate,” he says. “If you wanted to live like somebody in 1900 you could probably be fine working 15 hours a week. Today most people would like to have a TV and indoor plumbing, so we work longer and harder to increase our standard of living. It’s more about our expectations and desires than some hard-and-fast rule of economics.”

Robot human hand connectionThe World Economic Forum’s survey of employers found the greatest expectation for demand in computer and mathematical jobs, with a 3.21% compound annual growth rate from 2015 to 2020, followed by architecture and engineering, with 2.71% expected growth. Office and administrative jobs, however, are expected to contract 4.91%, worse than the 1.63% decline in manufacturing and production employment, among respondents. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) looks by country at the percentage of jobs with high potential for automation or significant change in tasks.

Automation is here to stay. “It’s integral to capitalism,” Mr. Ford says. “There’s this huge incentive to become more efficient. If your competitors do it, you do the same thing or you’re quickly going to be irrelevant. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the biggest things happening right now, and pretty soon all companies will have to incorporate them.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Technical innovations in natural resources

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Uranium mine

Natural resources companies, like those in many sectors, are adapting technological innovations developed for other uses. They also are breaking ground themselves.

“The interesting thing is that every industry has something to teach other industries,” says Dan Miklovic, principal analyst at LNS Research, a technology research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here are some examples of how natural resources companies have adapted innovations from other sectors:

 

Autonomous vehicles

“Mining was one of the first industries to use autonomous vehicles,” Mr. Miklovic says. “Autonomous mining trucks operate all over the world today.”

Autonomous vehicles, including trains and smart mining systems, allow mines in desolate or dangerous areas to greatly reduce the number of workers needed and to improve safety, especially underground and undersea, he adds.

Autonomous vehicles conduct inspections where it’s too dangerous for humans to go, says Jim Crompton, subject matter expert for Noah Consulting, a Houston division of Bangalore-based technology consultancy Infosys.

 

Military

Drones, adapted from the military, are being used to inspect offshore oil platforms in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico and may be adopted for land use as well if regulations change, Mr. Crompton notes.

Offshore oil rig drilling gas platformThe oil and gas industry also has adopted the safety culture of military nuclear submarines. “After the Horizon drilling disaster, there was a real strong push to drill wells more safely,” he says. “There can be no accidents in the nuclear reactors in submarines. The framework from the nuclear submarine industry was added to the oil and gas environment.”

In addition, military and intelligence set an example for cybersecurity. “It’s not well known, but oil and gas is probably second to the government and financial services as a target for hackers,” he says. “Some is intellectual property theft. But it can be even more serious. Everything is connected now and someone can change the control parameters and cause a physical accident.”

 

Medicine

Natural resources companies, along with medical imaging, led the way to the development of high-performance acoustic imaging technology to see below the surface, whether of skin or earth, Mr. Crompton says. Companies can model underground reserves in 3D and even 4D, showing the change over time.

 

Manufacturing

Just as manufacturers manage the entire factory as a whole, rather than each critical piece of equipment separately, oil and gas firms increasingly view their operations as a single operation with repetitive functions, notes Mr. Crompton. They drill wells in a repetitive way in order to gain efficiencies and use sensors, control systems and executing systems to monitor the entire operation.

 

Aerospace

As planes fly, sensors on myriad parts capture and transmit data for real-time analysis so that even small maintenance jobs can be handled while the plane is on the ground between flights.

Oil and gas is now doing that on compressors, turbines, pumps and even blowout preventers,” Mr. Crompton says.

Diagnostics have greatly improved to predict if a part is about to fail and cause alarms to sound, Mr. Miklovic says. “What they haven’t done is take the analytics to the next level. They haven’t gone past predicting when failures are going to happen, to telling users what to do to prevent the failure.”

 

Information Technology

Rather than sell a piece of equipment, some suppliers now are selling capability and guaranteeing reliability, Mr. Crompton says, similar to the IT model of “software as a service.” For example, blowout equipment can be leased for a decade with the maintenance included.

RefineryNatural resources companies have employed modeling tools to design distillation towers and cracking equipment, for example, and are now using data analytics to measure how well their models map back to reality, Mr. Miklovic says.

However, they have yet to fully exploit the vast amounts of data they collect, using it, for example, to refine information about rock density, rock hardness and the amount of valuable mineral in the ore to continuously improve production, he says. “Natural resources involve a huge amount of variability,” he adds. “They could do a better job of going back to accurately gauge how well their predictions related to reality.”

 

Logistics

The supply chain for natural resources companies is highly complex, and traditionally companies had warehouses of spare parts. By using sophisticated logistics systems, companies can eliminate the cost of keeping warehouses and stocks of spare parts, while ensuring the supplier can get the right part to the right place at the right time, Mr. Crompton says.

 

Challenges Ahead

A number of technologies are likely to affect the natural resources sector in coming years, from better communications to 3D printing, to better understanding the chemical breakdown of ore as it is getting processed, Mr. Miklovic says.

The challenge the natural resources industry has is it needs to stay current with technologies,” Miklovic says. “Don’t let them get too far ahead because there will be someone in your industry that adopts them quickly.”

 

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Leveraging “Design For Manufacturing” for More Sustainable Buildings

By Patrick
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This blog is adapted from an AIA presentation on Technology and Practice presented in partnership with the UNC Charlotte College of Architecture in October 2016.

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for More #Sustainable Buildings

construction

Design for Manufacturing is a process whereby designers consider the impact of manufacturing processes in the way they design buildings.

Large components—whether large concrete panels or whole modular rooms for an apartment building—might be completed within a factory environment and delivered to a jobsite where they are connected to MEP systems.

To be successful in this approach, designers must work with building component manufacturers to understand their capabilities and design a construction approach that accounts for the logistics of getting modules to the jobsite and installed.

By considering how to optimize factory processes and then most efficiently assembling the modular elements in the field, designers can leverage strategies that greatly eliminate construction waste.

With reduced waste, building owners can adjust their budgets and apply significant savings from improved processes to better materials and overall more sustainable buildings.

The Two Paths to Reducing Construction Costs

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Reducing Construction Costs

Construction projects typically see amounts of waste near 30% due to redundant rework and inefficiency. Without this waste, building owners could achieve significant project savings and reinvest in higher quality materials that are less harmful to the environment.

There are two potential approaches to reducing costs in construction:

  • AEC professionals can continually look for cheaper materials and labor to control construction costs. For example, vinyl is a very popular building material, largely because it is inexpensive compared to wood and other solutions. Yet PVC is made from chlorine salt using lots of electricity in a very environmentally unfriendly process.
  • Alternatively, AEC professionals can change their processes. By adopting a Design for Manufacturing approach, fabricators can automate many of the repetitive tasks that have to be done to produce a building. Fewer, albeit more highly skilled, workers can manage building component production in a safe, factory environment.

The latter approach may require a greater upfront investment, but the return on that investment can be recouped through the dramatic reductions in waste. Those savings can, in turn, be applied to investment in more sustainable building solutions.

Reinvesting Savings in Sustainability

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Green projects are projected to grow significantly in the years ahead. At present, buildings consume 70% of all electricity in the United States, reports the U.S. Green Building Council. There are numerous ways to reduce this electric consumption, but most AEC professionals consider building products rather than building processes as a solution.

Designers’ strategies for achieving sustainable design might range from making tighter envelopes that require less heating and cooling, adding solar panels, using smart lighting controls, to numerous other initiatives.

In the UK and some other countries, laws limit buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions. In some parts of the U.S.—namely, California—there are some emissions limitations set by law, but most green building is done in the name of incentives such as LEED or the 2030 Challenge for Sustainability, among other programs.

But for owners and AEC professionals that truly care about green buildings, it is important to also consider a clean AEC process.

A Design for Manufacturing approach to AEC could potentially lead to cleaner processes than traditional onsite construction.

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for More #Sustainable Buildings

Related Resources

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