Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bots, Drones and Driverless Cars

Creation of jobs is a promise that every political party makes to its voters. This is so all over the world and no political philosophy is an exception to this. Creation of jobs apparently refers to creation of additional jobs and thereby increasing the number of jobs already available. The discussion and focus on jobs has gone beyond this in the last few years. There is a heated discussion on preservation of existing jobs. Communities are happy if the existing jobs are protected and pink slips (an euphemism for job loss) are avoided or at least reduced. There are arm twisting rules and regulations in many countries that force employers to ensure intake of local workforce. There are instances of people working in other parts of the world thinking of and actually doing "homecoming"; getting back to their own countries for good. More capable and talented workers are able to job hop or start their own start-ups. The average level workers are struggling between job searches and job losses. Younger generation is indeed facing a crisis situation. Unemployment was a big problem forty years ago. Growth of service sector ensured that there was some job, even if economists called it underemployment, for anyone who wanted to work. It appears the cycle is complete and unemployment is again taking center stage.

The heading in a newspaper screams that Bots have taken over 12,000 jobs in just one company, WIPRO. A recent report in a newspaper mentioned that work done by Robs is on the increase and more and more categories of work are taken over by them. Robs is the short form for "Robots". They are also called "Bots". Whether Robs or Bots, even half the name is sending shivers down the spine of employees in big companies. It is not known whether SMS language has reduced "Robots" to "Robs" or they are called so due to their robbing of human jobs. Job losses estimates due to deployment of robots instead of humans differ from one source to another. It may probably require a sophisticated robot to come up with the exact number of jobs that will be lost due to deployment of robots. One calculation believes that 50 million jobs will be lost globally due to robot deployment in the next five years. Indian IT industry alone fears loss of several million jobs due to various factors, one of them being use of robots for basic jobs. IT minister denies that there will be loss of jobs. He states that the fears are exaggerated. But doyens of IT industry are clearly lamenting about job losses due to higher level of automation. Growth of IT industry brought in informal culture, calling first names and T-shirts into office atmosphere. It led the dissolution of trade union movement in various industries by making them irrelevant. Today, there is talk of formation of unions in IT industry to protect the jobs and emoluments!

Robots are already doing their jobs in many spheres of life. They are said to be leading in 21 different areas of production and servicing units. Surgical robots have performed over two million procedures so far and the number is increasing day by day. They are able to do their jobs with perfect motions and without emotions. Retail sales, security, journalism, receptionist, telephone sales, construction work, accounting, tour guides, librarians and teachers around us could be robots. Make no mistake, we are not talking about sales people, receptionists and tour guides who behave like robots. We are indeed talking about real robs here. Cow milking robots are deployed in animal farms. The milk we used in the morning could have been milked by a robot, processed by a robot and packed by another robot before being sold by yet another robot. 

A study by McKinsey & Company suggests that robots will eliminate some categories of jobs altogether. But more than that it will affect portions of almost all jobs to some extent. Health care and finance are among the sectors to be affected most. Job content and focus is also changing. A finance director who worked more on arithmetical calculations four decades ago is now working on financial strategy and investment. More than 75% of predictable work and nearly 25% of unpredictable physical work will be taken over by robots during the next ten years. Robots are already working around us without our realizing their presence. Many robots do not move and hence the illusion. Coffee vending machines and self-service kiosks are indeed an extension of robots stealing human jobs. Routine customer problems are also solved by robots. A higher level of intervention is still in human domain. Advancement in robotics may lead to a day when robots themselves create further robots! predicts that in future humans will find themselves working side by side with robots, rather than being completely replaced. Due to growth in robotics in cognitive computing and computer tasks, some jobs will disappear but some other new categories of jobs will be created. Soft-skill professionals are now conducting human relations programs and leadership skills program to build human teams. They may have to now branch out and design programs on human-robotic relationship and building men-robots teams. Laws may have to be amended to bring in dealing with robots at work place and regulating human-robot interactions.

Drones (unmanned moving objects including small airplanes) are becoming more and more common in commercial and defense usage. Amazon mentioned about use of Drones for delivery of items to customer doorsteps within 30 minutes of order, four years ago. China is already using it and its drones are delivering boxes to customers at their doors. You need not be surprised if a drone with a parcel flies on your head when you are walking on the road there. A day may come when an item delivered by a drone may be received at your home by your robot assistant, cooked by another robot to be served by a third robot.

Driverless cars or autonomous cars are the next in-things. They are already around us in test conditions. We are told that driverless cars will be around us shortly. The only impediment is that humans have to develop confidence in such cars. It is indeed a pleasure for many to go to sleep when someone else is driving. A day may come when one can get all the sleep for the day while traveling in a driverless car! Cars with cruise control are already in use for over a decade now. Driverless cars are coming in different levels. After cruise control, next would be hands-on cars which give warnings but do not have control on the cars. Such cars are already in use. They give a warning noise when the car comes close to another moving vehicle. The next generation cars will be hands-off cars, where the driver need not hold the controls, but can take over when the need arises. Next would be Eyes-off cars that would enable the driver to take off his eyes from the road while the car keeps moving as usual. Mind-off cars would be the ultimate ones. A couple who had a fight at home may get into to the car and continue their fight without bothering about traffic rules and on-coming vehicles. It may not end there. Flying cars may come that drive on the road but fly in case of traffic jams. Only they could cost more!

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a famous novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was published 130 years ago. Dr Jekyll discovers a serum by drinking which he gets converted to a evil character by name Mr Hyde. Initially this transformation is temporary and reversible. But it becomes regular and ultimately irreversible after some time. Dr Jekyll disappears and Mr Hyde's crimes and murders increase. One of the ingredients used for preparing the serum is exhausted. Further purchases of the item used in serum preparation do not work. Finally Dr Jekyll commits suicide to bring an end to Mr Hyde.

Frankenstein is another story written by English author Mary Shelley. She wrote the story when she was only 18 years old. The book was first published exactly 200 years ago. It deals with the story of Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The story deals with the evil acts of the creature, also known as Frankenstein, in the same name as its creator. The evil creature harasses its creator and kills his newly-wed wife. The creator also dies while trying to kill the creature. The end is indeed tragic.  


Creation of these Robots, Drones and Driverless cars may help improve quality of life. They may also bring misery in the form of job losses and sorrow due to their misbehavior in due course. Whether they would be the next generation Mr Hyde or Frankenstein, only future can tell.  Creation of something which the creator cannot control is dealt in many scriptures and literature of different languages. Bhasmasura is a well know character in Indian mythology. He got the boon of burning anything or anybody by merely placing his hand on the head. After getting the boon from Lord Shiva, he wanted to test its effect first on Lord Shiva himself! Mohini had to intervene and prevent the disaster.

The picture given at the top of this post is indeed self-explanatory. Man-created robots may ultimately control its creator. Whether there would be a Mohini to save that day is a secret shrouded in the future.


  1. We are challenging Almighty.Like Bhasmasura we ourselves bring an end to the human race by our intelligence used destructively.The words of saint Purandhara dasa ' "manava janma doddado,hani madikollabedi" has fallen into deaf ears of the current generation.Let us hope Almighty appears in some form to preserve this world and end miseries.

  2. Very interestingly narrated. Thank you. Our generation witnessed such fears when computers were introduced about 3-4 decades ago. Again we are witnessing now the Robot-revolution!

    Instances like driverless cars and husband-less marriages are going to be the order of the day in future and we have to get going. Lakshminarayana K

  3. Daniel S MahantyMay 29, 2017 at 9:06 PM

    Very interesting article. The replacement of low-skilled jobs by machines is indeed worrisome. One cannot help wondering how those with only basic education and skills will get jobs. In the West already jobs like those of petrol pump attendants have been replaced by self-service machines.
    A few years ago, when we spent a few months with our daughter in the US, we used to go to cinema theatres to watch movies during weekends. Students used to work man the ticket counters to earn some extra money. A few months later we saw that the students had been replaced by self-service kiosks. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the young kids, who were only trying to earn some extra pocket money.
    On the other hand, the impetus for driverless cars came from an engineer who lost a loved one in a motor accident - and decided to do something about it. Once the technology stabilizes - and it is a disruptive technology - the number of fatalities and injuries in motor accidents will fall sharply. Companies like Uber are experimenting with driverless taxis. Someone predicted that a few generations later kids will ask, "Did humans actually drive cars once upon a time?"
    A self-driving car will be something you pay for according to use, like water and electricity. People may not buy cars for personal use in future. Living close to your work place may no longer be a priority when a driver-less car will take you to work and back!
    What will happen to the poorly-educated drivers of today, who may not have jobs in future? Without a means of earning their livelihood, these families will be headed for destitution. Many of them will gravitate towards crime if they cannot earn a living honestly.
    No clear answers, I am afraid. Governments and policy-makers should study these issues and try and formulate policies that, while not strangling innovation, protect those who will be affected by these radical changes.

  4. Well written, Sir. The analogy drawn to mythology, as always, is the icing on the cake!

  5. Fantastic. You have shown the real concern of robotisation of society. Millions of people will be unemployed and poor will become poorer. Crime will increase

  6. The problem of future is well brought out. The ATMs used are another form of Robots, robbing away significant number of employment opportunities in Banks. The destruction factor was well narrated in one of Mr.Rajanikant's film. Once the creation take over the creator, the danger sword will be hanging on our heads. Hope better sense prevail and wide-spread implementation of such equipment is restricted or better not implemented. Well thought of article ringing the Danger bell well in time before tsunami happens.

  7. Drones are already in use to click pictures in wedding halls

  8. The replacement of manual labourers by automation will definitively result in large scale job loss.This has been foretold by the central trade unions way back in eighties .The govt. alleviated the fear by telling that it will open up new avenues of employment .We are going to experience the practical aspect soon.

  9. As usual, good narration. We are in the throes of another change, though it may happen gradually. The social and economic adjustments for the society , will be high , on account of arrival of robots on a large scale.-Vasudevan