If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Think Robotics

As job losses in the U.S. mount, under pressure not only from the current economic downturn/depression, but also from foreign competition, de-unionization, outsourcing, offshoring, and imported labor (both legal and illegal), it’s increasingly difficult to advise people on a “safe” career field. But there are a few bright spots—for the gifted, at any rate.

Most recently, I’ve been advising dentistry as the smart career choice. You can’t offshore dentists (yet), or import enough dentists to meet the demand. People need the service, they’re willing to pay for it, and the salary’s pretty good. The work’s not terribly unpleasant, and you can pretty much live wherever you like. It is hard to get into dental school, though.

But a few days ago, I saw an article about a new Japanese-made “runway robot.” My first thought was “There go the modeling jobs!” (I hadn’t seen a picture yet.) My second thought was “Here’s a second profession that I would recommend to young people: robotics.”

While runway models don’t have to worry about being displaced by this first awkward runway robot, it’s increasingly obvious that robotics is the wave of the future. Robots are cheaper, faster, stronger, less fragile, more flexible, more accurate, and easier to train and upgrade than humans. As if that weren’t enough, each generation of robots is “born” knowing everything the previous generation “learned”—robots simply skip the long maturation and learning period that humans must go through. Moreover, the duration of robot generations is much shorter than human generations, so they evolve faster.

Given these advantages, intelligent machines are slowly—but inevitably—taking over the tasks that humans have traditionally performed. And I’m not just talking about service jobs, factory jobs, or dangerous or physically demanding jobs; robots will get those first, but they won’t stop there. I’m talking about high-skill, training-intensive jobs—professions such as surgical assistant (and surgeon), mechanic, airplane pilot, stockbroker, lawyer, musician, and actor.

Even dentistry will eventually succumb to the advances in robotics.

People just entering the robotics field are getting started at the beginning of a big expansionary period, much like the expansions of electricity, physics, chemistry, computer technology, transportation, and biotechnology during the last century. If history is any guide, that expansion will probably last long enough for a decent career.

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