Dec 8, 2018

Robots or humans: the choice for companies

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Over the coming years, the workplace in the U.S. and other advanced economies will see increased automation, and corporate leaders will face a stark choice: whether to keep humans in the mix or let them go. And if it's the former, to what degree?

What’s happening: A wave of studies and corporate PR campaigns argue that there is nothing to fear from artificial intelligence and robots — they will operate to enhance human labor, not to replace it. But Ravin Jesuthasan, author of "Reinventing Jobs," says that will only be the case if the bulk of companies decide to use AI and robots that way — a decision that hasn't been made yet.

  • "The choice can be made to let a lot of humans go, or there can be a deliberate choice to keep humans in," Ravinm managing director at Willis Towers Watson, a UK-based consulting firm, tells Axios.

The calculus is one of today's most important global questions as economists face early evidence of trouble. We're in a new era of work in which wages barely grow and newly created jobs are either at the very top of the skills matrix, like in AI, or at the bottom, like in Amazon warehouses.

Jesuthasan gives an example in the form of a question: Should oil service companies field completely autonomous drilling rigs, and eliminate the positions currently held by humans, or keep things largely as they are?

  • “The technology to create completely autonomous or remote-controlled operations is here today,” he said. But the danger is that such tech could “trigger a race to the bottom,” in which profit is everything and it doesn't matter whether people have jobs.

The bottom line: Jesuthasan says that the question is, “How do we responsibly automate at a time the choice can have a significant detrimental impact on our country?”

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 a.m. ET: 1,203,923 — Total deaths: 64,795 — Total recoveries: 247,273Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 a.m. ET: 312,237 — Total deaths: 8,502 — Total recoveries: 14,997Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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World coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases top 1.2 million

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The number of novel coronavirus cases surpassed 1.2 million worldwide Saturday night, as Spain overtook Italy as the country with the most infections outside the U.S.

The big picture: About half the planet's population is now on lockdown and the global death toll was nearing 64,800, by Sunday morning, per Johns Hopkins data.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,500

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 8,500 in the U.S. early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest" time "between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said U.S. deaths are expected to continue to rise during this period.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health