By Sarah Evelyn Harvey
Who's your biggest competition for that new job? Turns out, it could be a robot named Baxter.
This humanoid robot, created by Rodney Brooks and his team at Rethink Robotics, is easy to program and costs $22,000. Brooks imagines that users will range from small-scale manufacturers, developers adapting the robot for unique uses, and university researchers. In about 30 minutes an hourly worker can program the robot to do a full day of work. Its small screen even has a face.
Is Baxter a sign of an entirely automated manufacturing future? At the Techonomy conference in Tucson, Ariz., Brooks joined MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee to talk about how robots will change our lives. John Markoff, a journalist at the New York Times, moderated the discussion.
(L to R) John Markoff of the New York Times, Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robots, and MIT's Andrew McAfee
While Brooks presented a rosy robot future, McAfee warned of the hugely negative consequence of digitizing work: humans are going to lose their jobs.
"I see robots encroaching into human skills and abilities that we have never seen before," said McAfee. "When digital technology gets better, employers hire the digital labor rather than the human labor." The adoption of automated robots is one cause of the recession, he says. It has also contributed to a global crisis of manufacturing; as more processes are automated, manufacturing output increases and employment decreases.
Brooks insisted that humanoid robots have the potential to be hugely beneficial. For instance, they could play a huge role in elder care and other health fields. But McAfee is not convinced. "Outsourcing is a weigh station on the way to automation," he said. Both, he suggested, will ultimately leave us unemployed.
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