Industrial robot

Why Universal Basic Income and tax breaks won’t save us from the jobless future

Image Credit: gualtiero boffi/Shutterstock

In Amazon’s warehouses, there is a beehive of activity, and robots are increasingly doing more of the work. In less than five years, they will load self-driving trucks that transport goods to local distribution centers where drones will make last-mile deliveries.

Soon afterward, autonomous cars will begin to take the wheel from taxi drivers; artificial intelligence will exceed the ability of human doctors to understand complex medical data; industrial robots will do manufacturing; and supermarkets won’t need human cashiers.

The majority of jobs that require human labor and intellectual capability are likely to disappear over the next decade and a half. There will be many new jobs created, but not for the people who have lost them — because they do not have those skills. And this will lead to major social disruption unless we develop sound policies to ease the transition.

The industry behind these advances — and reaping huge financial rewards from them — has been in denial. Tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, for example, calls the jobless future “a Luddite fallacy”; he insists people will be re-employed.

But now others, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Bill Gates, are acknowledging a skills mismatch with the potential for mass unemployment. They advocate a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a payment by the government that provides for the basic wants and needs of the population.

But these tech moguls are simply kicking the can down the road and shifting responsibility to Washington. UBI will not solve the social problems that come from loss of people’s purpose in life and of the social stature and identity that jobs provide. And the politicians in Washington who are working to curtail basic benefits such as health care and food stamps plainly won’t consider the value of spending trillions on a new social-welfare scheme.

A paper titled “A New Deal for the Twenty-First Century,” published last week by…

Watch An Industrial Robot Get Hacked, Ruining A 3D-Printed Drone

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ABB has fixed vulnerabilities in its robots that allowed hackers to remotely change its configuration, opening the door for catastrophic results, researchers warned Wednesday. (Photo credit: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

ABB has fixed vulnerabilities in its robots that allowed hackers to remotely change its configuration, opening the door for catastrophic results, researchers warned Wednesday. (Photo credit: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that industrial robots can be hacked and the potential for catastrophe is real. Today, researchers from Trend Micro and Politecnico di Milano hammered home the point with a proof-of-concept hack in which they remotely controlled a robotic arm drawing up designs for a drone.

While the hack doesn’t look particularly shocking – an ABB IRB140 industrial robot set up to draw a straight line is altered so it’s a few millimetres off – the impact could be significant, Trend Micro researchers warned. For instance, if an entire factory’s output is wasted because robots had been secretly tweaked to produce faulty goods, millions could be lost. Worse, parts for planes or cars could be changed as to become dangerous if put out into the real world.

In their scenario, the researchers attacked an ABB robot that was designing a 3D-printed drone rotor, injecting “microdefects” by remotely changing a configuration file; they didn’t tinker with the program code. “Taken to the extreme, however, should microdefects successfully evade detection by a vendor’s multiple checks and depending on the nature of the goods themselves, injury or fatality could occur,” the researchers warned in their report.

“As far as the robot thinks, it’s still drawing a straight line,” Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud research at Trend Micro, told Forbes. “It’s a remote code exploit to change the configuration file, we’re not changing the instructions, we’re changing what the robot believes to be true about its environment.

“It doesn’t sound like much until you remember what the robot is trying to do with this straight line. So…