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Published 10 October 2012 04:54, Updated 11 October 2012 05:00
In three years, driverless trains will be shuttling back and forth from ports to Rio Tinto’s mines, while fully automated drills plunge deep into the earth. Already, 150 driverless trucks beetle around the sites.
At its robotic “mine of the future” (as the company’s innovation program is termed), some of the roles now done at the site will be based in a city thousands of kilometres away.
“Employees will work like air traffic controllers,” Rio Tinto says. “They will supervise the automated production drills, loaders and haul trucks from a remote operations centre in Perth.”
If the mine of the future is run by robots, perhaps Gina Rinehart’s 1700 foreign workers won’t be needed for her Roy Hill mine after all.
Meanwhile, BAE Systems has been testing pilotless fighter planes over the Irish Sea that may be able to fly difficult missions autonomously for days at a time and pilotless passenger Jetstream aircraft.
In California last month, it became legal to use driverless cars on public roads. Google has already developed a fleet of such cars that its employees use.
Google is also interested in teacherless education, according to US futurist Thomas Frey. “We are short 18 million teachers worldwide and 23 per cent of all kids in the world don’t go to school,” he says. “These are big numbers.
“If we continue to want to insert a teacher between us and what we want to learn, there is going to be a problem.”
Robots are already being used in medicine and have performed heart surgery without opening patients’ chests.
Human capital expert, Kevin Wheeler, predicts that robots will also take over a lot of diagnostic work, such as reading X-rays and taking blood.
“This will reduce the number of radiologists needed and laboratory people,” he says.
In this race to make jobs obsolete, journalists will not be spared. According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, scientists at the Intelligent Information Laboratory are working on an automated news project, called News at Seven.
Algorithms are already creating sports reports and finance or local news reports are expected to come next.
Apart from the man versus machine issue, there are a lot of other topics. Should it be made clear if a text is written by a human or an algorithm? Who controls what the algorithms finds? Is an algorithm more or less open to influence than a journalist? And as the algorithm partly uses what was already written, what happens with copyright? And, importantly, will algorithms steal the work of journalists, or help them cope with information overload?