— Documentary video, with summary by Karen Asp
CPG Grey recently uploaded “Humans Need Not Apply,” a compelling documentary video on the breadth, depth and implications of contemporary workplace automation through developments in AI and robotics. The narrator makes the point that if the history of automation primarily concerned the transformation of physical labour through the invention of “mechanical muscle,” the revolution underway now is characterized by the transformation of intellectual and social labour through AI and robotic mechanization.
This revolution is said to be different because the new robots possess autonomous, embodied cognitive capacities that enable them to respond to their environments and learn new tasks without external programming. The changes are not just affecting low skilled labour, but white collar and professional jobs as well. And these are not future trends but changes happening today in fields ranging from retail service work to transportation and logistics, office business services, writing and journalism, legal functions like discovery, medicine, and creative activities.
Recognizing that the “robots are here right now,” the narrator questions the techno-utopian claim that “better technology makes more, better jobs” for displaced workers. This logic didn’t work for the millions of horses made redundant with the invention of the automobile. Now, with self-driving “autos” a technological reality, it is “only a matter of time” before millions of humans occupying jobs in the transportation and logistics industry become redundant in turn.
The narrator states that the point is “not that automation is bad,” but that it is “inevitable,” and given the scope and impacts of the transformations now underway, the urgent question is how to respond. The documentary provides some sobering contextualization to the publication of, and associated commentary on, the Pew Research Center report, “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” (August 2014).