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“As the promise of autonomous machines lags the underlying technology, the growing need for human robot-minders could juice the remote workforce,” reports The Wall Street Journal. An anonymous reader shares excerpts from the report: Across industries, engineers are building atop work done a generation ago by designers of military drones. Whether it’s terrestrial delivery robots, flying delivery drones, office-patrolling security robots, inventory-checking robots in grocery stores or remotely piloted cars and trucks, the machines that were supposed to revolutionize everything by operating autonomously turn out to require, at the very least, humans minding them from afar. Until the techno-utopian dream of full automation comes into effect — and frankly, there’s no guarantee that will ever happen — there will be plenty of jobs for humans, just not ones their parents would recognize. Whether the humans in charge are in the same city or thousands of miles away, the proliferation of not-yet-autonomous technologies is driving a tiny but rapidly growing workforce.
Companies working with remote-controlled robots know there are risks, and try to mitigate them in a few ways. Some choose only to operate slow-moving machines in simple environments — as in Postmates’s sidewalk delivery — so that even the worst disaster isn’t all that bad. More advanced systems require ‘human supervisory control,’ where the robot or vehicle’s onboard AI does the basic piloting but the human gives the machine navigational instructions and other feedback. Prof. Cummings says this technique is safer than actual remote operation, since safety isn’t dependent on a perfect wireless connection or a perfectly alert human operator. For every company currently working on self-driving cars, almost every state mandates they must either have a safety driver present in the vehicle or be able to control it from afar. Guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggest the same. Phantom Auto is betting the shift to remote operation might become an important means of employment for people who used to drive for a living.
Other requirements for our remote-controlled future include “a tolerance for working for a lower wage, since remote operation could allow companies to outsource driving, construction and service jobs to call centers in cheaper labor markets,” the report adds.
“Another might be a youth spent gaming. When Postmates managers interview potential delivery-robot pilots like Diana Villalobos, they ask whether or not they played videogames in their youth. ‘When I was a kid, my parents always said, ‘Stop playing videogames!’ But it came in handy,’ she says.”
Work expands to fill the time available.
— Cyril Northcote Parkinson, “The Economist”, 1955