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How Does That Make You Feel? (by Paul W. Smith)

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When someone asks you if robots are taking over our jobs, there are only two possible answers: (1) Yes and (2) I don’t know.  If you chose (2), then your job will probably be one of the first to go. 

If in fact a robot does replace your job, you will not be alone; each robot gaining employment in today’s economy will displace 5.6 workers and reduce overall wages by as much as .5 percent per 1000 employees in the process.  While it’s true that some humans will be employed in designing, building and maintaining these robots, this will not make up for all the lost jobs, or else there’s little reason to do this in the first place.

Ideas abound on how to rejigger the economy and lessen the impact of these changes.  Bill Gates suggests a tax on robots that could fund training and financial support for displaced workers.  Others have proposed laying the burden of care for the jobless on the robotics companies themselves.  Yet another radical idea is to implement a guaranteed basic income, paid for by a robotax. Finally, there is the optimistic view that robots will take over dangerous, menial and degrading work, while generating more higher level, satisfying jobs in the process.   So far, no word on what those jobs might be.

Not only is the labor market undergoing a major transformation, but the next wave, artificial intelligence, is looming large as the ensuing force for technological unemployment.  The International Data Corporation predicts that no job is safe, unless of course you aspire to be a Chief Robotics Officer.

Sweeping changes like these can be stressful, and history warns us that they will increase the demand for mental health care, even for those who keep their jobs.  Mental health services, already suffering from a provider shortage, will be severely strained.   The question is not so much where to find the people to fill these roles, but whether your next therapist will be a machine.

Typically, a human therapist will begin by using small-talk to gain rapport and build a picture of a patient’s mental profile.  Once they sense a reaction, they will inevitably ask “How does that make you feel?”  Since this can cost up to $200/hour, it is easy to see why so many patients go directly to Dr. Chardonnay. 

Computers on the other hand are lousy at making conversation, but excel at unravelling specific problems by rapidly accessing a vast database of general knowledge.  The human therapist will probably have a copy of the DSM-5 prominently displayed on the shelf, while the computer will access this standard resource in its entirety in a fraction of a second. Dr. AI will look at thousands of disorder/treatment combinations and select the best outcome.  As the number of unemployed workers grows, so will the database the artificial doctor can select from.

Sensing the entrepreneurial possibilities of this sea change, a team of psychologists and AI experts at Stanford has released a chatbot that can help you through the stormy seas of career collapse.  For a mere $39/month, Woebot will monitor your mood and help you feel better with insight, cognitive behavioral techniques, and a dose of AH (Artificial Humor).  Since $39 worth of Chardonnay is unlikely to last for 30 days, this looks like a bargain. 

There are other advantages beyond the price.  Woebot is always available 24/7 - unless you have a friend who will answer the phone at 3 AM without a string of expletives, this will come in handy.  Most of us will hold back somewhat from a human therapist for fear of being judged, but venting to a smartphone app should be easier.  As a bonus, Woebot won’t prolong your therapy because it has a kid who needs braces.

Woebot should fit in nicely with a world that is already shunning human interaction in favor of algorithms and social media.  The initial release worked only through Facebook Messenger (an iPhone app has since arrived).  Because you are dealing with a non-licensed provider, medical data and security laws don’t apply.  HIPAA will not protect your privacy, and Facebook (or the app developer) knows who you are and owns all your conversations. 

How does that make you feel?

 

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Author Profile - Paul W. Smith, a Founder and Director of Engineering with INVENtPM LLC, has more than 35 years of experience in research and advanced product development.

Prior to founding INVENtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, he was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, and currently manages the website “Technology for the Journey”.  

Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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