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Enter the 'care' economy

Robots will not beat the human touch

From Ian Pearson for CNN

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Ian Pearson: "Physical jobs will be done by robots and mental jobs will be done by smart computers."

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(CNN) -- We will be seeing a transition from an information economy to something called a "care" economy -- and that is quite different.

Between 2015 and 2020 we will have machines that will be comparable to humans in terms of intelligence -- or maybe even significantly more intelligent.

If you think about that and the cost of those machines -- likely to be just $100 for the software -- it will basically kill the information economy.

Those of us who sit behind desks and use our brains to do work -- we won't be able to do that because the machines will do that, basically for free.

The care economy is about taking away the physical jobs because they will probably be done by robots, and taking away the mental jobs because they will be done by smart computers.

What we will be left with are those jobs that rely on human contact. We call it the care economy because they are the sorts of jobs that need human contact -- primarily caring-type jobs. Jobs like teaching children, or caring for someone as a nurse, or starting a personal service for people, like hairdressing or waitressing.

We have already got programs that are better than the GP at doing diagnosis so an awful lot of a doctor's job can be done by a machine -- and it is only 2005.

What the machines are starting to do as well are advanced reporting and doing things like brain surgery and hip replacement because they are more precise than a human surgeon. So where extreme precision is required, doctors are already being replaced by high-end robotics.

Both in the intellectual side and the physical side robots and computers are making a big impact in healthcare.

Gradually, in 2020, I would expect that you would be able to get a direct diagnosis from an AI (artificial intelligence) system which will go straight through to an AI-based chemist which will check that the drugs are compatible and you will get your prescription -- probably with minimal human intervention.

But it is very difficult to imagine teaching, for example, being taken over by computers. We already have the Internet and we already have access to educational material on the computer, and if you wanted to learn by computer, you could.

But we still have real teachers, and the teachers guide the children and show them what to do. It is difficult to imagine a robot teaching people in the same way a human does.

You use the computers as one of the tools and the same goes with nursing.

You can imagine a robot lifting you out of bed and changing your bed pan but you cannot really imagine a robot coming in being warm and compassionate and holding your hand if you've just had a family bereavement.

A nurse can do that because they are a genuine human being with genuine human emotion -- you can't get that from a machine.

We will be spending more time on human interaction and doing personal services for other people -- jobs like fitness gurus, lifestyles gurus, feng shui consultants, color therapists, job's that reduce people's stress, these sorts of things will expand dramatically and a lot of people will be working in these jobs.

Ian Pearson is a futurologist working for British Telecom (BT) and the co-author of "Business 2010: Mapping the New Commercial Landscape."

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