What Will We Do When Robots Take Our Jobs?

Posted August 30th, 2016 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We are in the midst of a revolution, occasioned by the disappearance of a massive number of jobs as we know them. We are experiencing the end of work as we know it.

What do we mean by the expression “the end of work?” It means technology, as defined as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and “robotization,” exerting a slow but continuous degradation on the value and availability of work—in the form of wages and the number of adult workers with full-time jobs. The widespread disappearance of jobs would usher in a social transformation unlike we’ve ever experience or imagined. The issue won’t be saving jobs, it will be saving or recasting the concept of work, which has become a religion in its own right.

Some aspects of the future world of work are already present. In my Psychology Today article, “The End of Jobs As We Have Known Them,” I argue that the jobless future is already here. Futurist Jeremy Rifkin contends we are entirely a new phase in history, one characterized by a steady and inevitable decline of jobs. He says the world of work is being polarized into two forces: One, an information elite that controls the global economy; and the other, a growing number of displaced workers.

Organizational structural changes have altered the nature of careers and jobs . Organizations have become “flatter” with fewer management levels as more work has become knowledge work. Project work and teamwork have also changed the nature of jobs.

Careers that once were viewed as progressions “up” a ladder are now often multidirectional and lateral. Robert DeFillippi and Michael Arthur define these changes as the creation of the “boundaryless career,” where the career path is defined by the individual’s soft and hard skills, not by their formal education or experience.

PWC’s report, “The Future of Work: A Journey to 2022,” a study of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US, gave their views of the future of work, concluded that increasingly large corporations are turning into mini-countries and will take a more prominent role in social issues, the most important of which be the environmental; the development of more sophisticated measures of human productivity that include psychological and social components, and the disappearance of the boundary between work and personal life.

Economic growth is increasingly not driven by human labor but by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots.

In 2013, Oxford University researchers In a published paper titled: “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization” C.B. Frey and M.A. Osborne, researchers at Oxford University, created a model that calculates the probability of substituting a worker in a given sector. Frey and Osborne conclude machines may replace 47% of active workers in the future. Of 1,896 prominent scientists, analysts, and engineers questioned in a recent Pew survey on the future of jobs, 48% of them said the AI revolution will be a permanent job killer on a vast scale.The Bank of England has warned that within the coming decades as many as 80 million jobs in the U.S. could be replaced by robots.

We are already witnessing chronic unemployment or significant underemployment for adult men and youth. The share in the economy of men in jobs and wages aged 25-54 has continuously declined through good and bad times since the 1970’s. And real wages and employment opportunities for college and university graduates have substantially declined since the year 2000. Only 68 % of men between 30 and 45 who have a high school diploma were working full time in 2013, according to a recent report by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public-policy group.

Even the professions are not spared by the impact of economic restructuring that we’ve experienced.The number of hours logged by first-year and mid-level legal associates fell 12 percent from 2007 at some of New York’s largest law firms, says Jeff Grossman, national managing director of Wells Fargo Private Bank’s Legal Specialty. Architecture graduates ages 25 to 29 had the highest unemployment of the 57 degree programs surveyed by the Education Department in 2009. What about the medical profession? CABG rates are continuing to fall, says cardiologist Jack Tu, co-author of the ICES report and team leader of the Canadian Cardiovascular Outcomes Research Team (CCORT). “Anecdotally, a lot of surgeons are concerned they don’t have the [procedure] volume to meet their targets government funding [as a cardiac centre],” says Tu, a senior scientist at ICES and Canada Research Chair in HealthServices Research. Volumes will definitely continue to fall, resulting, eventually, in a surplus of cardiac surgeons, says Tu. “We need to stop training so many. They’re not going to have a lot of work.”

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of The Second Machine Age, argue computer technology is evolving so rapidly that predicting their capabilities and applications in a decade is almost impossible. Remember it was only 2007 when the first Iphone was released. Look at the capabilities of smartphones now.

Job creation is very different today than it has been in the past. The newest industries being created are mostly related to computer software, telecommunications and like applications, are the most labor efficient and don’t require many people. Economic historian Robert Skidelsky, author of Keynes: Return of the Master, argues, “sooner or later, we will run out of jobs.” If Skidelsky is right, it raises the question of what will our society look like without universal work or even close to it?

The application of AI, robotics and computer software kills a wide variety of skilled jobs.

The replacement of human labor with AI and robotics has expanded from jobs that produce material products to a wide range of services, including the professions such as law, accounting, and health and even psychological therapy. The recession of 2007–2009 may have sped up the destruction of many relatively well-paid jobs requiring repetitive tasks that can be automated. These so-called routine jobs “fell off a cliff in the recession,” says Henry Siu, an economist at the University of British Columbia, “and there’s been no large rebound.” This type of work, which includes white-collar jobs in sales and administration as well as blue-collar jobs in assembly work and machine operation, makes up about 50 percent of employment in the United States.

Siu’s research also shows that the disappearance of these jobs has most harshly affected people in their 20s, many of whom seem to have simply stopped looking for work. Middle-income jobs are disappearing for a wide range of jobs. For example, the number of financial counselors and loan officers ages 25 to 34 has dropped 40 percent since 2007, outpacing the 30 percent drop in total jobs for the profession, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the investment business we are seeing the replacement of financial analysts with quantitative analytic systems, and floor traders with trading algorithms. Mutual funds and traditional portfolio managers now compete against ETFs (exchange-traded funds), many of which offer completely automated strategies.

The expansion of contingency work for large numbers of people, and continuing development of the “gig” economy.

One in three U.S. workers—53 million people—are now “contingent,” already contending with the changed structure of work, perhaps juggling multiple jobs and serving as temporary, “gig,” or self-employed workers. An increasing number of corporations, government institutions and even colleges and universities have replaced full-time workers with part-time and contract or piecemeal workers, any without any security or benefits. During the recent recession, large numbers of Americans who lost their jobs scrambled to make a living. Simultaneously, Internet commerce was expanding providing the most specialized consumer wants to be met with great efficiency and speed. This provided some enterprising individuals the unprecedented ability to capitalize on their own hands, minds, things, and hours.

Thus, says Jacob Morgan, author of Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders and Create a Competitive Organization, the gig economy was born: Americans were able to use a craft expertise to an Etsy side job, or a car into a job for Sidecar, Lyft, and Uber for a little extra money. Benefit-less, contractor jobs that fill the gig economy include low barriers to entry and flexibility of schedule.

Sara Horowitz, founder and CEO of Freelancers Union, argues that the jobless future is here. Many people are already combining part-time work just to get by, she notes. In an article in the magazine Atlantic, Horowitz writes that as of 2005, 30% of the workforce has participated in this “freelance economy,” and entrepreneurial activity has reached an all time high in 2010.

In the past decade cloud computing has radically altered the way we work. But it’s the growth of the “human cloud”—a vast global pool of freelancers who are available to work on demand from remote locations, that will shake up the world of work. More and more employers (“requesters”) are inviting freelancers (“taskers”) to bid for each task. Two of the biggest Internet sites are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which lays claim to 500,000 “turkers” from 190 countries and Upwork, which estimates that it has 10 million freelancers from 180 countries. They compete for more than 3 million tasks or projects each year, which can range from tagging photos to writing code.

Management consultants McKinsey & Co. estimate that by 2025 some 540 million workers will have used one of these platforms to find work. The benefits to companies is obvious—instant access to a pool of cheap, willing talent without having to go through the lengthy recruitment process, and costly benefits. For the taskers, the benefits are not so good. However, the champions of crowdsourcing argue that it provides a powerful force for the redistribution of wealth by providing a fresh stream of income into the economy. In balance, it’s more likely to increase income inequality and depress wages. The big challenge for governments will be how to codify, and provide ethical, legal standards for this kind of work, to prevent abuses by employers.

What Happens to Education?

The disappearance of work for many people will have a dramatic impact on the nature of post-secondary education. For some time now, the purpose for, and offerings in colleges and universities in North America, have become increasingly skewed towards the preparation for jobs. If that purpose becomes questionable or even redundant, post-secondary institutions will either shrink or possibly repurpose themselves back to classical views of education, emphasizing the enlightenment of democratic citizens. According to Bethany Moreton of Dartmouth College, the 10 fastest growing job categories require less than a college degree. Over 40% of the college graduates are now working in low-wage jobs.

In policy debates, technology is presented as an uncontrollable force for which societies and workers must prepare. While education can allow individuals to improve their well-being by moving to a more lucrative profession, the overwhelming majority of jobs—in developed and developing countries alike —will not improve through more education. Of the current top 10 occupations in the U.S., only one is a highly skilled—a registered nurse. Retail salespersons and cashiers, fast-food workers, general office clerks, customer service representatives, waiters and waitresses, laborers, and janitors are the other top occupations, accounting for more than one of every five jobs in the U.S. in 2014, and not predicted to disappear anytime soon. The average annual earnings in most of these jobs in the U.S. is just under $20,000. More education may help a fast-food worker to leave the sector, but it will do little for the person remaining in that job. In Denmark and France, countries which embrace socialism, retail and fast-food workers are protected by collective agreements, these jobs provide living wages and other social benefits including paid annual and sick leave.

As Jaison Abel, senior economist at the New York Federal Reserve, argues, “A significant challenge is that a large swath of people will be displaced as technology continues to advance, and some kind of retraining will likely be required. And we really have very little understanding about the kinds of retraining programs that are beneficial and would potentially pass a cost-benefit test.”

John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox, argues that given this era of accelerating change, one in which the half-life of many skills can be as short as five years, corporate training centers no longer work; returning to community colleges every five years is not viable. He argues we must re-invent the workplace as a “learningscape.” He says we can create “Cities of Learning’’—a new movement in which employers, libraries, and museums are wired together to help kids find their interests outside school and pick up new skills—or networks of partners in the corporate world.

A powerful example of this kind of learning is the use of GitHub; another example is being developed by a conservative company, SAP, which has created an extended open source network that has a couple million participants who are learning with and from each other. Another example is Hacker DoJo, a community in Silicon Valley where people share digital technical skills, or the guild networks around massively multi-player online games where thousands of new ideas are created, shared, and tested each night. And the rapid development of MOOCs, and other sources of free education and training through the Internet may make brick-and-mortar educational institutions obsolete.

The traditional answer has been to invest in developing skills that machines can’t replicate—creativity, problem solving, ingenuity, and other higher-order functions. Interestingly, embracing these skills means taking a step back from the idea of the human being that emerged during the Industrial Revolution—cog in a machine, interchangeable, and reproducible—towards the older Renaissance humanism, more prone to seeing people as possessed with unique gifts to create and innovate.

The problem is that public education in the U.S. and much of the world is, in many ways, a by-product of the Industrial Revolution. Education came to be standardized just like production, with students lined up in neat rows of desks and taught a uniform curriculum. An emphasis on memorization and rote learning helped produce a uniform citizenry— literate, compliant, interchangeable—to fill standardized roles in industry, offices, and government.

None of that cuts it in an age when intelligent machines can do anything rote or repetitive far better than we can. Cultivating some of our last uniquely human abilities—namely creativity and social intelligence—requires reimagining education as a means not of reproducing uniformity but of nurturing exceptionalism–in other words, the ability to do things that can’t be codified or systematized.

The Disappearance of Jobs, Income Inequality and the Consumer Economy

Martin Ford in his book, The Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, asks the question: “What happens to the consumer economy when you take away the consumers who are not working?” And what will happen to much of the infrastructure that supports the world of work as we know it—from the building of suburban communities supported by a commuter working force to the endless rows of office buildings?

It also means, says Richard Freeman, a leading labor economist at Harvard University, that far more people need to “own the robots” inclusive of other kinds of automation and digital technologies in general. Some mechanisms already exist in profit-sharing programs and employee stock-ownership plans. Other practical investment programs can be envisioned, he says.

Whoever owns the capital will benefit as robots and AI inevitably replace many jobs. If the rewards of new technologies go largely to the very richest, as has been the trend in recent decades, then dystopian visions could become reality. But the machines are tools, and if their ownership is more widely shared, the majority of people could use them to boost their productivity and increase both their earnings and their leisure. If that happens, an increasingly wealthy society could restore the middle-class dream that has long driven technological ambition and economic growth.

The concept of a “living income” also allows us to keep the wheels of the economy and innovation turning. “A fundamental insight of economics is that an entrepreneur will only supply goods or services if there is a demand, and those who demand the good can pay,” writes the Center for Internet and Society expert Andew Rens.

Progress depends, in no small way, on people buying stuff, and that depends on them having an income. A living income isn’t completely without precedent. In the 1970s, a five-year basic income program in the Canadian province of Manitoba called Mincome showed promising results. Parents spent more time raising children. Students showed higher test scores and lower dropout rates. Hospital visits, mental illness, car accidents, and domestic abuse cases all declined. And in the end, total working hours only slipped by a few percentage points. In other words, having a basic income didn’t lead to sloth or indolence. It let people spend time on the things that mattered: family, education, health, personal fulfillment.

Whatever the reasons for the disconnect between productivity and wage growth, it’s a problem for everyone, not just workers. Rich people like their money, but who wants to live in a world where the haves hide in cloistered communities defended by private armies, while starving haves-not work for peanuts, if at all? To date, we have chosen to distribute society’s resources largely based on our ability and willingness to work. We appear to be rapidly evolving to a world where assets, not labor, are the primary driver of prosperity. So the question is: How can we move toward an economy that equitably distributes benefits in an asset-based economy?

Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, says the problem of the lack of connection between increased productivity and stagnant wage growth is a serious problem for the economy, a trend that feeds income inequality. Do we want to see our society as portrayed in the movie Solyent Green, in which the haves hide in clustered communities defended by private armies, while starving have-nots work for peanuts, if at all?

Will Government’s Role Become More Substantial?

New technologies created by AI and robotics will be fed with capital, so it can be assumed under the current free-market capital system the profits from these industries will accrue to the same wealthy individuals and corporations, and not find their way into the hands of the rest of the population. What then becomes the role of government, one purpose for, is to ensure the well being of all its citizens? One proposal to address this issue is for government to provide a guaranteed income to all adults (who are also consumers).

The concept of a universal income without universal work will be terrifying to many political conservatives. A modified solution could be for government to pay people to do something,–including education– rather than nothing, which again raises the fear of socialism in America. In both the U.S. and Canada, recent debate has raged about the minimum wage. But while the debate on whether or not workers should be paid a minimum wage, Finland is considering giving every citizen, regardless of income or employment status, around $850 a month. The idea behind the plan — called “basic income” — is that it would replace all other welfare and would serve as a replacement for all other government benefits.

Governments will have to deal with the reality of the end of retirement. Forget quitting at age 65. As life expectancy lengthens, people will be expected to work longer. Governments are already struggling to afford pensions for longer living population and people find it harder to make their retirement savings stretch. It’s likely first that retirement will become gradual, and then extended to 67 or 70 within 20 years. This also presents challenges for employers in initiatives to ensure older workers are productive. And there is a myth that older workers are less capable or productive, which is not born out by research.

How Then Do We Define Work and Its Value?

Prior to the 20th century, in English the term “job” connoted fragmented, low-quality piece-work. But through time we elevated some of these to the status of “real jobs” and rewarding the minority who performed them as job-holders.

Peter Frase, author of Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, describes how automation will change North America, based on his argument that human labor will end, along with our belief and commitment to “work for work’s sake.” Many experts would argue that for some time now, jobs have not been motivating or rewarding for most people, as evidenced by studies that how as many as 70% of workers are not engaged in their jobs. The modern quest for meaningful work underpins a paradox—we are both disengaged from our jobs and terrified of losing them.

For decades, psychologists and other experts have demonstrated intrinsic factors—purpose, meaning, creativity, fulfillment and autonomy—are actually absent in the typical job today. Several studies have shown that North Americans place a higher value on work and work more hours than Europeans, and feel guilty when they are not productive. This emphasis will exacerbate the problem of the disappearance of jobs from the lives of many. Will the vacuum be replaced—as has often been forecasted—by leisure time? One such possibility would be the development of creative communities such as “maker spaces” or industrial shops of artisans in small communities.

One theory of work proposes that people see themselves in jobs, careers or callings. People who say their work is “just a job” emphasize that they are working for money rather than aligning themselves with any higher purpose. People who pursue a calling don’t do it for status or pay but for the intrinsic fulfillment of the work itself.

There was a time when work and home were distinct realms. The old industrial clock regulated our lives into discrete blocks of time, and a separation between public and private life. No longer. The constant connectivity of mobile, digital technologies erases the boundaries of the week and weekend, and their characteristic social relations. How will we maintain the line between “my time” and “employers’ time?”

In his Harvard Business Review article, “Create a Meaningful Life Through Meaningful Work,” author Umair Haque writes, “Maybe the real depression we’ve got to contend with isn’t merely one of how much economic output we’re generating – but what we’re putting out there and why. Call it a depression of human potential, a tale of human insignificance being willfully squandered.”

Recent studies from research at McKinsey conclude that providing meaningful work to employees was the most important contributing factor to a high level of engagement. In her book, The Progress Principle, author Teresa Amabile reports that of all the events that can deeply engage people in their work, the single most important factor was meaningful work. According to Amabile, “Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, research shows that the ‘inner work life’ affects the bottom line.”

A Dystopian or Utopian Future?

Concepts of utopia and dystopia represent imaginary societies in which people live their life either in a perfect environment, governed by the laws that provide happiness to everyone, or in an oppressive society that is ruled by repressive and controlled state. Origin of these concepts can be traced to the year of 380BC, when Greek philosopher Plato released his influential political dialogue called “Republic”. In it, he first postulated the main themes of utopian society and his visions of the perfect Greek city-state that provided stable life for all of its citizens.

The modern world “Utopia” came to life during early years of 16th century, in the work of the famous English philosopher Thomas Moore. His description of utopian society gave birth to enormous wave of utopian thought that influenced the life and works of many future philosophers and novelist, and helped in the creation of several important political movements (most notably socialism).

Utopias that were envisioned by the minds of those authors can most easily be divided in several distinct categories, all based on the means of their creation – Ecology utopia, Economic utopia, Political utopia, Religious utopia, Feminists utopia and Science and technological utopia. 19th century gave the birth of the largest wave of utopian thought the world has ever seen. Numerous novelist and philosophers focused their careers on the exploration of those themes, and result of their work influenced the audiences across the entire world. Most notable utopian novel from that period was without a doubt Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy.

Not all examples of utopian life were set in the theory. Some people tried to realize the dreams postulated in the work of several philosophers, and so the age of utopian societies came to life. During the 19th century, over a dozen utopian societies were established in the United States, and few of them managed to survive even to today.

End of 19th century brought the rise of Dystopian thought. Numerous philosophers and authors imagined the dark visions of the future where totalitarian rulers governed the life of ordinary citizens. Their works explored many themes of dystopian societies – repressive social control systems, government coercion of citizens, influence of technology on human mind, coping mechanisms, individuality, freedom of life and speech, censorship, sexual repression, class distinctions, artificial life and human interaction with the nature (and often the consequences of its destruction).

Some of the earliest and influential works of dystopian fiction can be contributed to the authors H.G. Wells (Time Machine), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four). Their works paved the way to the numerous other authors, who even today manage to envision some new aspect of life in dystopian societies. In addition to literature, dystopian themes found life in many other types of mediums, such as comic books (most notably V for Vendetta, Transmetropoliten, Y: The Last Man and Akira), music, video games (Fallout, Deus Ex and BioShock ) television series (The Prisoner, Dark Angel, Doctor Who and Twilight Zone) and movies (Metropolis, Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange and The Matrix).

It is difficult to predict with accuracy how technology will shape our future, to what extent it will be used in favor of the citizen and the public good. What has become clear is that it has fallen upon society to assume responsibility for the way technology is used—including to protect individual identity and privacy from governments and corporations.

Technology is not the solution to hunger, war and poverty, but merely a tool. Society can no longer meekly adopt it without thinking of the repercussions of particular advances. Rather, we must actively ensure that it enhances our quality of life the way we had hoped it would. If not, technology will keep advancing but society will lag behind.

Questions to Consider

“The central question of 2025,” insists GigaOM lead researcher Stowe Boyd, “ What are people going to do in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the robot-based economy?”
How do we keep the economy humming when jobs themselves have grown obsolete?
How do people support themselves?
What does it mean to be productive member of society in a post-job world?
How do we define work?

Why Some People Would Prefer a Robot to a Human Boss

Posted October 30th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

What if your boss was a robot? One with advanced artificial intelligence and human-like physical features, capable of assessing your emotions? And would more robots mean removing the need for human managers? Another science fiction fantasy? Not so, claim some scientists. And what about the moral and ethical questions raised by the use of robots?

The Artificial Intelligence Revolution

Several mainstream and reputable publications have now devoted lead or cover stories to the issue of automation and use of robots, and the impact on the economy and how work is evolving.

In an article in The Atlantic magazine, Derek Thompson provides an in-depth analysis of the issue. He argues we are entering an era of technology that is vastly different than the past—one of “technological unemployment,” in which computers and robots will be able to virtually invent a large proportion of the population out of work “permanently.” He contends this is because human labor will no longer be the driver of economic growth. He also argues that the coming computer and robot revolution will make material goods cheaper, but that wealth that accrues will continue to be aggregated in the upper strata of society.

In the usually conservative journal, Foreign Affairs,  much of the issue was devoted to the topic of robots. Daniela Rus, who is director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT describes the extensive use of robots currently and their expansion in the future. In the same issue, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, also at MIT discuss the potential obsolescence of human labor and Martin Wolf an economics commentator for the Financial Times argues the impact and significance of today’s emerging technologies are vastly overestimated.

American producers of robots are already saying that investments in machines are more profitable than hiring people. Technology enables lower levels of human labor outlays, but the economy doesn’t allow people to survive.

An example of the use of computers in what was once regarded as a complex human job is stockbrokers. The functions of stockbrokers are increasingly being replaced by intelligent algorithms, which are better than humans in capturing changes in stock prices. Computer programs are also being employed to analyze large datasets (Big Data), and used by corporations for the purpose of planning and marketing. Any job that is done routinely and repetitively can be taken over by a computer program or robot. And think of journalists, most office work, even jobs in the medical profession, accounting and law.

“Robotization” is the final frontier of the world of work. If a machine can do something a human can do, it is only a matter of time before it does this cheaper and more efficiently. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, the authors of the book Race Against the Machine , the coming of the era of cheap production automation is a prelude to dramatic changes in the labor market.

Other studies confirm this. In a published paper titled: “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization”  two researchers from Oxford University, C.B. Frey and M.A. Osborne, created a model, which calculates the probability of substituting a worker in a given sector. Frey and Osborne conclude machines may replace 47 % of active workers in the future.

The Pew Center for research conducted a study on the subject, concluding “The vast majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassed anticipate that robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance. But even as they are largely consistent in their predictions for the evolution of technology itself, they are deeply divided on how advances in AI and robotics will impact the economic and employment picture over the next decade.”

Traditionally, increased productivity correlates with economic growth and job growth, since human labor has historically driven production. A robot workforce, however, can drive productivity and growth on its own, eliminating jobs in the process. That might mean the whole paradigm of exchanging labor for pay starts to break down. “If we persist in the view that the dividends from robots’ increased productivity should accrue to robot owners, we’ll definitely come to a future where there aren’t enough owners of robots to buy all the things that robots make,” Cory Doctorow wrote in a recent Boing Boing post.

Yuval Noah Harari should be an anonymous academic buried in an obscure university department somewhere toiling away on his somewhat dusty discipline – medieval military history. He’s a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and there is almost nothing in his background to suggest that he would write a book that has become one of the most talked about non-fiction bestsellers of the year – Sapiens. In an interview in The Guardian, ) he talked about the coming age of cyborgs.

He argues we’re on the cusp of perhaps the greatest change for the human race ever, saying, “The one thing that has remained constant in history was humans themselves. Homo sapiens, you and me, we are basically the same as people 10,000 years ago. The next revolution will change that.” The “next revolution”, as Harari sees it, the latest in a line that began with the cognitive revolution and takes in the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution, is what is happening in the biotech field, in artificial intelligence.“When people talk about merging with computers to create cyborgs, it’s not some prophecy about the year 2200. It’s happening right now. More and more of our reality exists within computers or through them.”

But this is only the start of it. For the first time in history, “we will see real changes in humans themselves – in their biology, in their physical and cognitive abilities”. And while we have enough imagination to invent new technologies, we are unable to foresee their consequences he contends.

So with this as a background, let’s return to the question posed in the title of this article: “What If You Had a Robot For Your Boss?”

More than anything, the issue of emotions remains the most difficult to address with robotic technology. Yet, computers already have developed a capacity to deal with emotions such as, “stressed”, “fear”, “anger” and other emotion-oriented words, because they generally rely on self-monitoring, Many can even be progarmmed to handle self-motivation. For example, when a sensor in a car indicates a bad fuel mix problem, a car even today can warn its owner that it is feeling “sick,” and should go to the car doctor–the dealer’s service center.The next step would be a self-navigating car that asks its owner if it could drive to the car doctor itself, so that it can talk to the car doctor’s AI to let it know exactly what the problem is.

The other aspect of robotization is the Internet of Things. Increasingly, everything is being connected to the Internet, and the Internet is being imbedded into everything from merchandize to buildings. Eventually the use of this kind of AI will be seamless with robotics.

Are any jobs safe? Some experts believe that jobs that require judgment and interactions with other people might be saved. Examples would be in the healthcare, education and social net sectors. All of these require the human touch.

As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee describe in their book The Second Machine Age, “thinking machines”—from autonomous robots that can quickly learn new tasks on the manufacturing floor to software that can evaluate job applicants or recommend a corporate strategy—are coming to the workplace and may create enormous value for businesses and society. They raise some key questions though. Although technological limitaitons are disappearing, social, moral and ethical ones remain. How can you persuade your team to trust artificial intelligence? Or to accept a robot as a member—or even as a manager? If you replace that robot, will morale suffer? Will you be able to express your emotional concerns to your robot manager?

Yet, research has shown giving machines a voice, a body, or even a name can tap into this tendency and make people more comfortable working with them. For instance, we seem to collaborate with robots more effectively when they make “eye contact” with us and we think they’re cuter and more humanoid when they tilt their heads to one side.

Research from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), show how groups of two humans and one robot worked together in one of three conditions: manual (all tasks allocated by a human); fully autonomous (all tasks allocated by the robot); and semi-autonomous (one human allocates tasks to self, and a robot allocates tasks to other human). The fully autonomous condition proved to be not only the most effective for the task, but also the method preferred by human workers. The workers were more likely to say that the robots ‘better understood them” and “improved the efficiency of the team.”

A study from the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Manitoba, suggests that you’ll probably obey a robot boss nearly as predictably as you would a human. The researchers found humans willing to take orders from computers, but much less readily than from other humans. Participants were asked to perform a menial task (renaming computer files) for 80 minutes, and a computer named “Nao” was able to exert enough authority to keep 46% of participants on task for the full 80 minutes even as they voiced a desire to quit. Humans were almost twice as likely —86%—to obey another human, in this case an actor in a white lab coat. Still, researchers were struck that “even after trying to avoid the task or engaging in arguments with the robot, participants still (often reluctantly) obeyed its commands. These findings highlight that robots can indeed pressure people to do things they would rather not do.”

Robotic or computer software managers may seem far-fetched, and today few predict when the authority figure in the corner office is an automaton. But in recent years, a surprising array of managerial functions has been turned over to artificial intelligence. Computers are sorting resumes of job seekers for relevant experience and to estimate how long a potential employee is likely to stay. They are mapping email exchanges, phone calls and even impromptu hallway interactions to track workflow and recommend changes. Widely used software is analyzing customer data for algorithms, which in turn is changing when and where workers are deployed.

Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources  argues robot bosses are no substitute for human bosses. “ It is possible for software to provide sophisticated information (i.e. ‘Here is how you are doing’). But management is still a much more complicated task of making adjustments to the work being performed in order to meet changing demands, diagnosing problems and offering solutions,” Cappelli argues.

Shawndra Hill, a Wharton professor of operations and information management argues automated functions and algorithm-driven decisions are becoming ingrained in the workplace. She says anything that can be coded and tied to the bottom line is an opportunity for model building.

In nearly all categories relating to HR from recruitment to performance management, companies participating in the CedarCrestone 2013-2014 HR Systems Survey said they were substantially increasing technology enablement of HR processes. (The survey represented 20 million employees, mostly in the U.S.)

Experts like Cappelli and other management gurus present another argument. One that taps into the trend toward workplace autonomy and independence of workers. Increasingly, jobs are knowledge related and employees are educated. And many of them want more autonomy over their job, particularly Gen Y employees. Cappelli says, “You don’t need a boss, you have to report info to our software system [instead]—they might actually like it.”

So a number of practical and ethical questions remain to be answered regarding the question of replacing managers with robots. The practical ones, including developing sophisticated enough algorithms to deal with a million different scenarios that involve human judgment are already being developed in labs around the world. The ethical question of constant monitoring of employees movements and actions by robots and software programs remains a thorny issue for policy makers. And finally, can robots be made to be so humanoid in features including dealing with emotions to generate trust in employees remains a substantial obstacle?

One thing is for sure. The workplace is changing and the nature of what a workplace looks like, and applications of technology to allow remote and mobile independent work may make the current use of managers obsolete. But will they be replaced by robots, or replaced by individual worker initiative?