Robots are moving into the service industry
A company called Rethink Robotics has created a machine named Baxter. He’s a robot, and he’s selling like hotcakes. At $22,000, Baxter is fairly reasonably priced, easy to train, safely works with humans, never takes vacation time and doesn’t eat lunch. No bathroom breaks, either. Doesn’t need health insurance or a 401K. Talk about an ideal employee.
In a couple weeks, the company will have new software available to expand the tasks Baxter can do. And that has some people worried about how robots will affect employment in this country. It’s currently at 7.7%.
“When machines and robots start taking over service sector jobs, that’s when we’ll really start to notice,” according to Martin Ford, a robotics expert. What he finds most disturbing is that some of those service sector jobs are the safety net for the middle class in a down economy. He calls them the “jobs of last resort,” and it’s where someone turns when they can’t find a salaried position. Increasingly, those are 55+ baby-boomers.
Ford told KTRH, “I think it will be a real issue. I think it’s something that we’re going to have to deal with as a society. I think that going forward we may run into a problem where we’re simply not creating enough jobs at all levels for all people that needs jobs.”
The flip side is the possibility that new technology, i.e. robots, could lead to job creation. Think of how PC’s have changed workplaces. Seth Teller is a robotic researcher at MIT, and says, “One way to frame this is robots are taking human jobs away, but technology has, throughout history, transformed the nature of human jobs. There’s displacement, certainly, but we’re still seeing this transformation play out, you just don’t know whether there there’s going to be a net gain or loss of jobs.”