When computers came out, my first thought was that they were going to replace humans. I couldn’t imagine it not happening but everyone kept telling me that computers couldn’t operate by themselves, that they needed humans to input data.
Since almost everyone thought I was taking a pessimistic view and that there would always be work for humans, and that work was going to be made easier by the use of computers, I stopped ranting about it. Almost.
One day, a friend and I went to the movies and they were showing a trailer with robots of the future. The robot on the screen was vacuuming a room and pouring someone a drink. It moved slowly, but surely, going around obstacles placed in its path. The price tag was $40,000. I turned to my friend and jokingly asked, “Do you want to split the cost and we’ll take turns sharing the robot?”
A couple of years later, I was in a shopping center and all of a sudden I saw a small robot, about two feet high, walking around the mall, carefully avoiding obstacles. It was amazing. It wasn’t doing any of the things that I saw in that movie trailer, but it was plain as day, that this was someday going to be the wave of the future.
A lot of years have passed since then and my concerns at that time were not unfounded. For many years, people were needed who understood and could program code and who could design software to help people do a multitude of things. People had to learn enough to become technicians to repair computers; then they had to learn how to build them. For the longest time it looked as though I had worried needlessly.
But now, it looks as though computers are replacing people. Prices have come down so much and they keep coming down. Technology keeps being replaced at warp speed and consumers are now more inclined to buy a new computer than to have the old one repaired. So, how much work will technicians of the future have if people find it cheaper to replace their computers than to have them repaired?
I remember when my first laptop broke, I took it to a technician to repair it. The cost was enormous but I figured it would be cheaper than having to replace it. The technician spent a lot of hours trying to get it to work, and it did work, for a few weeks. And then I witnessed its death throes and I had to dump it. Nothing was salvageable. I had to buy a new laptop.
When I went to replace it, four years later, the price was a third of what I had paid. And when I handed my accountant the receipts I had for the repairs that year, I discovered that I had paid more for the repairs than what I paid to buy a new laptop.
At that point, I made a decision to take out a four-year, on site, warranty for any new computers that I bought in the future and not to spend money on repairs after the warranty expired. It paid off royally. During the four years, the company has had to replace my monitors, my hard drives, my keyboards, and once, even my computer itself. And not once has the cost of all those warranties equaled the cost of the repairs for the first laptop.
This brings me back to the kind of things that computer operated robots can now do to replace humans. They can turn on your oven and start cooking your dinner. They can turn on your house lights to welcome you home. They can clean a house, shop for you online, and keep track of your expenses. They can book airline flights and make hotel reservations. They can even be programmed to have conversations with you.
One of the advances in computer technology that is a godsend to the elderly and people who are bedridden or who just can’t move around too quickly, is the wireless 2-way intercom system with video for your house.
It comes with a camera door unit and a portable hand-held LCD display unit that lets you see who is at the door. You can be anywhere in the house within 300 feet of the front door and it shows you a live video and voice feed of the front door.
Ten seconds after the doorbell chimes, it takes a snapshot of the person and can store 163 pictures. Then you have the choice of communicating via the intercom or ignoring the person.
So here is another example of computers replacing humans. People who are worried about a loved one living alone and not being able to answer the door, might not have to hire someone to stay with them. The portable display unit shows you who is there, takes and stores a picture, and allows communication to take place without the person at the door ever knowing that the occupant in the house is disabled.
Over the past several years, I can’t remember walking into any business establishment and not seeing computers being used for at least some portion of the business. I see business owners replacing bookkeepers with QuickBooks and other software products for most of their accounting needs.
In the old days, a bookkeeper would come in to a small business once a month and tally everything up so that everything would be ready to turn over to an accountant at the end of the year. Now, various accounting software products take the place of a bookkeeper.
Inventory used to be done manually. Now, computers store the information as an item is sold. It tells the owner what items are in stock and what needs to be ordered. The only thing I haven’t seen computers do is sweep the floors, dust the shelves, arrange creative window displays, and stock the shelves with new merchandise. But that’s probably coming in the not too distant future.
When I see how quickly new technology replaces old technology and how quickly electronic gadgets come down in price because it’s cheaper to manufacture nowadays, it’s no wonder that consumers are buying new equipment rather than repairing them. So, now we have to ask ourselves, is it any wonder there are so many unemployed workers nowadays as little by little workers are being replaced by computers?
And this leads me to ask whether someday robots will replace people because their thinking skills may be better than ours?