White-collar robots are opening a new phase of automation that could blindside a whole new class of workers, an economics professor warns.
In an article for The Wall Street Journal adapted from his book, Richard Baldwin, a professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, writes a combination of artificial intelligence and globalization could reshape the workforce.
And the "new version" of automation and globalization "will lower the headcount in many service-sector occupations," he warned.
"Thinking computers are designed to replace workers," he wrote. "They are not as good as human workers, but they are significantly cheaper."
Baldwin illustrates his point with one white-collar robot, called Amelia, developed by Chetan Dube, the founder of automation software company IPsoft who believes "using remote workers in India would be nowhere near as efficient as replacing U.S. and European workers with cloned human intelligence.”
The blonde and blue-eyed bot works at the online and phone-in help desks at the Swedish bank SEB, in London for the Borough of Enfield, and in Zurich for UBS, Baldwin noted, adding the bot can memorize a 300-page manual in 30 seconds, speak 20 languages and handle thousands of calls simultaneously.
In all, Amelia is used by over 20 of the world's leading banks, insurers, telecom providers, media companies and healthcare firm using "a form of artificial intelligence called 'machine learning'" that's given computers skills like reading, writing, speaking, and recognizing subtle patterns, he wrote.
"The sophistication of AI systems like Amelia . . . will displace many service-sector jobs —but they will eliminate only a few occupations," Badwin wrote.
"This is what automation has always done. Tractors, for example, automated some farm chores, but they did not eliminate farming as an occupation. We just needed fewer farmers. This is what we'll see all across the service sector in coming years."