Can smart machines do your job?

2013-01-25 12:56

((Picture: AFP))

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Washington – Art Liscano knows he's an endangered species in the job market: He's a meter reader in Fresno, California for 26 years.

He's driven from house to house, checking how much electricity Pacific Gas & Electric customers have used.

But PG&E doesn't need many people like Liscano making rounds anymore.

Every day, the utility replaces 1 200 old-fashioned meters with digital versions that can collect information without human help, generate more accurate power bills, even send an alert if the power goes out.

"I can see why technology is taking over," Liscano, 66, said who earns $67 000 a year.

"We can see the writing on the wall."

His department employed 50 full-time meter readers just six years ago. Now, it has six.

From giant corporations to university libraries to start-up businesses, employers are using rapidly improving technology to do tasks that humans used to do. That means millions of workers are caught in a competition they can't win against machines that keep getting more powerful, cheaper and easier to use.

Findings

To better understand the impact of technology on jobs, The Associated Press analyzed employment data from 20 countries; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, CEOs and workers who are competing with smarter machines.

The AP found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38 000 to $68 000. Jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

In the US, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession paid middle-class wages, and the numbers are even more grim in the 17 European countries that use the euro as their currency. A total of 7.6 million midpay jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through last June.

Those jobs are being replaced in many cases by machines and software that can do the same work better and cheaper.

"Everything that humans can do a machine can do," Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston, said.

"Things are happening that look like science fiction."

Google and Toyota are rolling out cars that can drive themselves. The Pentagon deploys robots to find roadside explosives in Afghanistan and wages war from the air with drone aircraft. North Carolina State University this month introduced a high-tech library where robots, "bookBots", retrieve books when students request them, instead of humans. The library's 1.5 million books are no longer displayed on shelves; they're kept in 18 000 metal bins that require one-ninth the space.

The advance of technology is producing wondrous products and services that once were unthinkable. But it's also taking a toll on people because they so easily can be replaced.

In the US, more than 1.1 million secretaries vanished from the job market between 2000 and 2010, their job security shattered by software that lets bosses field calls themselves and arrange their own meetings and trips. Over the same period, the number of telephone operators plunged by 64%, word processors and typists by 63%, travel agents by 46% and bookkeepers by 26%, according to Labor Department statistics.

Big Data

At the heart of the biggest technological changes today is what computer scientists call "Big Data."

Computers thrive on information, and they're feasting on an unprecedented amount of it, from the internet, from Twitter messages and other social media sources, from the barcodes and sensors being slapped on everything from boxes of Huggies diapers to stamping machines in car plants.

According to a Harvard Business Review article by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more information now crosses the internet every second than the entire internet stored 20 years ago.

Every hour, they note, Wal-Mart Stores collects 50 million filing cabinets' worth of information from its dealings with customers.

No human could make sense of so much data. But computers can. They can sift through mountains of information and deliver valuable insights to decision-makers in businesses and government agencies. For instance, Wal-Mart's analysis of Twitter traffic helped convince it to increase the amount of "Avengers" merchandise it offered when the superhero movie came out last year and to introduce a private-label corn chip in the American Southwest.

The cloud

In the old days, say, five years ago, businesses that had to track lots of information needed to install servers in their offices and hire technical staff to run them. "Cloud computing" has changed everything.

Now, companies can store information on the internet, perhaps through Amazon Web Services or Google App Engine, and grab it when they need it. And they don't need to hire experts to do it.

Cloud computing "is a catch-all term for the ability to rent as much computer power as you need without having to buy it, without having to know a lot about it," McAfee says. "It really has opened up very high-powered computing to the masses."

Small businesses, which have no budget for a big technology department, are especially eager to take advantage of the cheap computer power offered in the cloud.

Hilliard's Beer in Seattle, founded in October 2011, bought software from the German company SAP that allows it to use cloud computing to track sales and inventory and to produce the reports that federal regulators require.

"It automates a lot of the stuff that we do," owner Ryan Hilliard says. "I know what it takes to run a server. I didn't want to hire an IT guy."


- AP

Read more on:    us  |  technology
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
6 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

SA sliding into crony capitalism - Naidoo

Twenty years after the first democratic elections, South Africa is sliding into a system of crony capitalism former Cabinet minister and Cosatu leader Jay Naidoo says.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Cape Town - 17:18 PM
    Road name: De Waal Drive Outbound
    DELAYS between Roeland Street and Hospital Bend
  • Thursday Brackenfell - 17:00 PM
    Road name: Frans Conradie Drive Eastbound
    HEAVY DELAYS between the R300 Highway and Okavango Road
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Huawei B683 21Mbps 3G Wireless Router

Huawei B683 21Mbps 3G Wireless Router The B683 wireless gateway (hereinafter...

From R1671.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be required to travel or get information for your job. This may be restricting in some way or something may slow things...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.