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OM in the News: Robots and Our Future Jobs

January 19, 2016
A technician demonstrates the Hubo robot at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos

A technician demonstrates the Hubo robot at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Korea’s Hubo won a $2 million prize for beating 22 competitors in a U.S. D.O.D competition.

The Davos Robot, an adult-sized automaton, which can climb stairs and enter and exit a car, will be a star attraction at the World Economic Forum conference, reports BusinessWeek (Jan. 18-24, 2016). It illustrates a looming challenge for the 2,500 delegates: How to protect their companies and jobs by harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, without exacerbating the economic frustration and populist discord spreading around the globe.

At Davos, there are panels on what happens when robots go to war, potentially replacing “both soldiers and generals,” and whether innovation “is failing the middle class” by eliminating jobs. Few experts dispute that the rise of robots and sophisticated software to power them will create winners and losers, as did the steam engine and the advent of mass production.

Oxford U. researchers say 1/2 of American jobs are at risk of being automated within the next 2 decades. Most notable are high-skill roles that have so far been largely shielded from the advances of technology. A WEF analysis estimates a net loss of 5 million jobs in 15 major economies by 2020.

In finance, Merrill Lynch is already looking to automate investment advice for clients. The same for Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo, who say they’ll develop or acquire robo-advisers. McKinsey estimates that by 2025 robots or automated software will be able to do the jobs of 140 million knowledge workers.

Those on the cutting edge of developing new computing systems are more optimistic. At IBM, researchers are working to build products atop the Watson computing platform that will search for job candidates, analyze academic research or even help oncologists make better treatment decisions. Such revolutionary technology is the only way to solve “the big problems” like climate change and disease, while also making ordinary workers more productive and better at their jobs.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What are the major changes robots are expected to bring into OM?
  2. How can artificial intelligence be used in the finance industry?
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