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Good OM Reading: The Coming Robot Apocalypse?

November 13, 2015

robotsMerrill Lynch just sent me a 300 page report the firm recently released called Robot Revolution – Global Robot & AI Primer. It makes for fascinating reading. “We are facing a paradigm shift which will change the way we live and work,” the report states. “The pace of disruptive technological innovation has gone from linear to parabolic in recent years. Penetration of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) has hit every industry sector, and has become an integral part of our daily lives.” We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, following steam, mass production and electronics, concludes the study.

Merrill Lynch estimated robots could boost work productivity by 1/3 in countries and reduce staff costs by about the same amount. Manufacturing jobs, as well as jobs that require little to no creativity, are at risk of being replaced by robots. Jobs that pay less than $35,000 a year are five times more likely to be replaced by robots than jobs that pay $100,000 a year or more. The firm estimates this will be a $153 billion market by 2020, with robots performing 45% of manufacturing tasks by 2025, compared with 10% today.

“Robots and AI are becoming an integral part of our daily lives,” says the report, “as providers of labor, mobility, safety, convenience, and entertainment. We anticipate growing risks around robots, the smart grid, autonomous cars, and drones and commercial flights. Managers are raising legitimate, longer-term questions as to when robots/AI reach a point that machines are smarter than humans, and around the development of fully autonomous weapons.  The report cites a Pew survey that found 48% of industry leaders worry about the effects of robots on society. If robots take all these jobs, for example, it risks societal upheaval and collapse. Then there are the military drones. The firm estimates that $123 billion will be invested in drones over the next decade. Who is going to control the drones, asks Merrill Lynch, and what are they going to do with them?

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