first_img There is no question robots will eventually join the workforce.But will the manager’s dream—cleaning sewers without complaint—be the workers’ nightmare?Matt Beane, a faculty member at UC Santa Barbara’s Technology Management program, describes a utopia where automated employees handle “dirty, dangerous, and dull” tasks, like shutting down a leaky nuclear reactor or inspecting electronic components.There’s just one catch: This paradise, in which human nor cyborg is more valued than the other, doesn’t exist.“The problem is that installing robots often makes the jobs around them worse,” Beane wrote in a piece for Wired.“Use a robot for aerial reconnaissance, and remote pilots end up bored. Use a robot for surgery, and surgical trainees end up watching, not learning,” he said. “Use a robot to transport materials, and workers … can no longer interact with and learn from their customers. Use a robot to farm, and farmers end up barred from repairing their own tractors.”And he should know: Beane spent the last seven years studying these dynamics in the field.A research affiliate with MIT’s Institute for the Digital Economy, Beane studies deviance in work involving artificial intelligence—specifically robotics. His field research includes robotic surgery, materials transport, and telepresence in healthcare, elder care, and knowledge work.For two years, Beane watched automated medical procedures in top-tier U.S. hospitals, where “most nurses and surgical assistants were bored out of their skulls.”As he describes it, the process of robotic surgery is slow, slow, slow, fast, then very slow. While a surgeon operates the bot from a control console, everyone else stands around, twiddling their thumbs and checking Facebook.“There’s not a lot to do, but you always have to come ready,” Beane said. “Compared to open surgery, it’s clean, safe, and dull work.”The same can be said across other industries, where the installation of cyborgs has led to less challenging jobs for humans, with fewer opportunities to learn.There are pluses, of course: People can direct their attention elsewhere, to other projects or employees. But it’s not easy recognizing these opportunities.“Getting these clues takes careful, boots-on-the-ground attention to the entire work system as it changes,” according to Beane. “Using them to guide a broader work redesign can cost more than a typical robotic install—and not all roboticization is worth equal attention.“But not doing this work guarantees an outcome we can’t afford: a future of degrading work,” he said.Worried about the future of your livelihood? Check out Geek’s list of 11 robots that are going to steal your jobs to find out if you’re in danger.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on target Evan Rachel Wood Just As Disturbed by Humanoid Sophia As Everyone ElseMIT’s Thread-Like Robot Slides Through Blood Vessels In the Brain last_img read more