Rise of the Robots: Jobs Machines Can Do Better Than You


The robots are coming, and this time it’s for your job. They’re bypassing the interview process and heading straight for your desk, not to mention the desks of your co-workers. And it looks like they’re here to stay.


With technology advancing and the labor market evolving, the encroachment of robots is more widespread than you ever dreamed of. You’ll soon find them in your doctor’s office, behind the wheel of your car, and checking you in at your hotel.


Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply, says that their presence won’t always be noticeable. Some—like the ones greeting you at the bank or the department store—will look vaguely human. Others will basically be invisible.


“When they say the robots are coming, it doesn’t mean they’re going to look like people,” Kaplan says. “They’ll come in the form of distributed systems capable of performing a job better than humans can, or storing information better than humans can, or perceiving different patterns in cyber space that humans can’t readily analyze.”


Kaplan attributes the rise of the robots to two breakthroughs in artificial intelligence: machine learning, which feeds off large quantities of data being inputted into computer programs; and sensory perception, which allows robots to take in information about their environment and react accordingly.


Robots have patiently waited in the unemployment line for the following jobs—all of which they’re now capable of taking on.




With advancements in artificial intelligence, there’s a possibility that robots will fill jobs in the medical field that require high skill and intellect, says Hod Lipson, professor of engineering at Columbia University.


How is that possible? While a doctor can see 10 to 20 patients a day, Lipson expects that artificial intelligence could allow thousands of patients to be treated in that same time frame, and for a fraction of the cost.


“It’s both exciting and alarming,” Lipson says. “Lots of lives will be saved with robotic doctors, but a lot of jobs will be lost. There are pros and cons to this.”


Robots are already working away in hospital operating rooms. If you’re getting knee-replacement surgery, for example, a robotic arm may help with the procedure.


Sanjay K. Gupta, medical director of the joint replacement program at Connecticut’s Danbury Hospital, says the device uses 3-D visualization of the entire pelvis to assist surgeons.


“It guides the surgeon to put the socket exactly in the way it’s intended to be put in,” Gupta says. “That makes the surgery very precise and very reproducible.”




Narrative Science, a Chicago company that specializes in machine-generated articles, is teaming up with media outlets to provide sports stories and earnings reports. For run-of-the mill coverage, it’s less expensive to go this route than to hire reporters.


How does it work? When scorekeepers email post-game data to Narrative Science, a software program called Quill whips up a pretty accurate story in a matter of minutes.


The same holds true for business stories. Even big publications like Forbes are getting in on the act, using the technology to summarize earnings reports.


When it comes to most articles, you won’t even know a human didn’t write them.


“The truth is that machines are much better at analyzing that kind of data than people are,” says Stuart Frankel, CEO of Narrative Science. “Technology like Quill emerged to automate a task people are spending a lot of time doing.”




It’s expensive to rent out a helicopter to get some great aerial shots, but with drones, you can capture all the footage you need for comparatively little money. They’re also becoming indispensible for special events, weddings, and even exotic vacations.


Drones have become so popular that the Federal Aviation Administration is cracking down on unauthorized flights. Earlier this month, it announced a $1.9 million fine for a company that operated drones in restricted airspace over New York and Chicago.


But even with these restrictions, the use of drones continues to skyrocket, and startups have been quick to take advantage of the growing industry. Queen B Robotics, based out of WeWork Berkeley, develops software that allows a fleet of drones to communicate with one another, while FreeSkies, a member of WeWork Golden Gate, was founded to make drone photography even easier.


“Photographers and cinematographers will need hybrid autonomous drones that assist without limiting creativity,” says Jay Mulakala, co-founder of FreeSkies. “Drones are the next visual domain that is set to transform film from the skies.”


Professional Driver


By now, you’ve surely heard of the Google Self-Driving Car. The Google X project is already forcing the government to consider down-the-line legal ramifications, and the Department of Transportation has given four states and Washington, D.C. the power to draft rules governing how these self-driving cars are tested and sold.


Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are wary of these changes. Soon, they’ll face the interesting dilemma of whether they should also deploy self-driving cars to keep pace with the latest technology.


But it’s not just cars that will be speeding down the highway without drivers; soon, commercial vehicles will also be operated remotely.


“The technology being developed will eliminate cars and trucks altogether,” Kaplan says. “There’s a likelihood that the role of cab drivers will be greatly reduced in the future. But the first to go will be long-haul truck driving because it’s the simplest thing to automate.”




Say bye to baby-sitters. Chinese company AvatarMind created the iPal to give kids a fun and interactive friend to play with while their parents are away at work. The cartoon-like robot on wheels made an appearance at a recent RoboBusiness conference in San Jose, California, where attendees had a chance to interact with it and admire its many talents. It can sing, dance, play, talk, and read with children, and has an LCD display and sensors that help provide therapy for kids with special needs.


Parents can use AvatarMind to monitor their loved ones remotely via smartphone, and even initiate a video call that uses a screen on the robot’s chest, says John Ostrem, the company’s co-founder.


Customer service rep


When you walk into a hotel lobby, imagine someone behind the desk handing you a refreshing cup of water and striking up a conversation. You’ll do a double take when you realize you’re talking to a robot.


That’s right: robots are taking the customer service sector by storm. They’re programmed to answer tons of tough questions that their human counterparts might not always know the answer to. And you’ll never see them calling their managers over.


The famous example is Pepper, a Japanese humanoid robot that has the ability to read emotions, react to its environment, and spark interactions with customers. Behind the design of these intelligent, wheeled robots—which, among other things, can recognize and remember your tastes and preferences—are Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank Mobile.


Magali Cubier, global marketing and communications director at Aldebaran, says Pepper can actually increase traffic and engage customers.


“Pepper is not supposed to eliminate jobs,” Magali says, “but act more like another layer on top of in-store professionals to provide customers the best experience possible.”


Someday, robots just might replace your physical presence while you’re away on vacation or on a business trip.


Double, a teleconferencing tool created by California-based Double Robotics, sits in on business meetings when you’re not there. A web-based platform and iOS app allow you to have a virtual presence through video chat. If you really wanted to, you could grab a seat at the lunch table, have a one-on-one meeting, or just roam around the office saying hello to co-workers.


Another way to roll is via Beam, a robot created by WeWork South Station member Suitable Technologies. Barack Obama used Beam this past summer during a reception at the White House. For the workplace, the upside of having Beam show up to your meetings is that it’s always ready to go. It doesn’t need a coffee or lunch break. Instead, Beam has a battery dock on its feet, which keeps you juiced up throughout the day.


Amid the rising tide of robots, there’s nothing for entrepreneurs to be worried about—so far, at least. “Robots don’t start companies,” says Kaplan. If anything, they’re taking on work that requires the ability to retain a great deal of information or perform repetitive tasks. In doing so, they’re helping us focus on creating jobs we’re truly passionate about and actively pursuing them with a higher purpose.


When former Marine Corps captain Zach Iscol went out for beers with his former commander, they talked about the 33 men in their battalion who had been killed in action in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.


Unfortunately, tragedy did not end there.


“[We] realized that there’d soon be a point in time when we’d lost more Marines to suicide than to enemy action,” Iscol says. “It’s an epidemic.”


That moment six years ago led to the founding of the Headstrong Project, a New York-based nonprofit that helps veterans heal the wounds that have plagued so many of their lives as a result of the experience of war and beyond — in particular, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Today about 15 percent of the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. And veteran suicides occur at an alarming rate, with the Department of Veterans Affairs reporting that about 22 veterans killing themselves every day.


Iscol decided he wanted to do something about this problem by providing veterans with top-notch mental health care, free of charge. He joined forces with two staffers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City: Ann Beeder, a clinical psychiatrist who has treated patients suffering from trauma for more than two decades, and Gerard Ilaria, a licensed social worker and health care professional who has dedicated much of his career to caring for people with HIV. Together they co-founded Headstrong.


At Headstrong, post-9/11 veterans can receive confidential treatment at no cost, and without bureaucracy or paperwork — or the stigma that often surrounds mental health counseling.


“These are good people who have to make impossible life-and-death decisions,” says Iscol, 39. “And you have to live with those decisions. And when you’re a good person it can be really hard to live with those decisions.”


There is no cap to the number of counseling sessions veterans can partake in. According to Iscol, the program currently has more than 500 veterans in treatment across 18 cities.


“We’ve treated over 700 veterans in six years,” he says. “And we’ve had zero suicides that have been in our treatment program.”


Ilaria said that helping veterans in the workplace is a big part of the program. It’s an important part of getting their lives back on track.


“Veterans make excellent leaders and they’re great on a team,” says Ilaria, 57. “But they can’t really do well at their job if their mental health isn’t in order.”


Todd Bowers, director of WeWork’s Veterans Initiative, says that Headstrong is a valuable resource for veterans and their loved ones.


“By providing cost-free, bureaucracy-free, and stigma-free treatment for the hidden wounds of war, Headstrong and their incredible team have helped to shape the narrative around post-9/11 veterans and their families by showing that the right help at the right time can heal anyone,” says Bowers, who was a staff sergeant with the Marine Corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Life ‘changed in the blink of an eye’


One of Headstrong’s success stories is Joe Quinn, who was a year away from graduating from West Point in 2001. But a week after he received his senior class ring, a celebratory event, the World Trade Center was attacked. “It all changed in the blink of an eye,” Quinn says.


His 23-year-old brother Jimmy was on the 104th floor when Flight 11 hit the North Tower on September 11, 2001. A graduate of Manhattan College, Jimmy was working for Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm whose offices occupied the 101st through 105th floors. The company lost 658 employees, including Quinn’s brother. “All of the sudden there was this punch in the face,” says Quinn. His classmates at West Point realized, as Quinn puts it, “that this is why we’re here.”


He graduated as a lieutenant and joined the Army, serving two tours in Iraq before being deployed in Afghanistan as a civilian counterinsurgency advisor for General David Petraeus. He then earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School and returned to West Point as an instructor at its Combatting Terrorism Center.


For 14 years Quinn held onto a complex set of feelings wrapped up in the grief of his brother’s death and the experiences surrounding the deaths of many of his fellow soldiers. Quinn, now 38, described in a personal essay how his feelings compounded and manifested repeatedly over the years: a heaviness in his chest; a warm flush of blood rising to his head; a sharp jolt of heat stinging his heart. He had PTSD. At first he thought he felt guilt, but eventually realized it was shame. “I placed no value on myself, which led to depression and aggression,” he wrote. “I thought going to war would save me, but it made things worse.”


After referring numerous friends to Headstrong, Quinn decided in 2015 that it was time to seek help for himself there.


Quinn now serves as the executive director of Headstrong, working from his office at WeWork 42nd Street. “I jump out of bed [to go to work],” he says. Quinn, who grew up in Brooklyn, also continues the annual tradition of the “Jimmy Quinn Mets Game” in which he and early 200 family and friends go to Citi Field in Queens for a ballgame.


Quinn isn’t the only member of Headstrong’s management to seek help at his eventual place of employment. Dustin Shryock, the nonprofit’s director of operations, served two tours in Iraq. During his second deployment in 2007 and 2008, he says his unit set a new record for the number of days in a row during which they were engaged with direct fire, indirect fire, mortar fire, and grenades.


Like many veterans, Shryrock, 35, had trouble transitioning back to civilian life. He had left his home state of California for New York City, enrolling in graduate school, but was doing poorly, and began to notice that he was experiencing anxiety and depression. “I was not going home anymore. I was staying out all night. I quit responding at work. [NYU] was about to kick me out because I’d rather be at the bar than at class,” says Shryrock, who also works from WeWork 42nd Street.


Then, in 2014, he sought help. “I was actually told, ‘You look sick.’” Friends referred him to Headstrong and he’s never turned back — first as a client and now running its day-to-day operations. “That’s when you start to do the work,” says Shryrock. “You address moral injury. Consistent bombardment or enemy fire. You address the absurdity of war. Thanks goodness I cleaned myself up.”


Reporting on the ongoing civil war that had spilled over from Syria into Lebanon, René Cao says she witnessed suffering on a scale unlike anything she’d ever seen before. But despite the hardships she encountered in war zones and refugee camps, she found herself inspired by the selflessness of the people she encountered.


The former reporter for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV network now works for a bitcoin exchange based out of Shanghai’s WeWork Financial Center. But the Chinese citizen has never forgotten the people she met when she was on assignment in Lebanon in 2011.


“The people I met really shaped my values,” says Cao. “They have driven me to do something for someone else, not just care about myself. As a journalist, I thought I could use my skills to tell their stories and share them with the world. I knew their voices needed to be heard.”


Her determination to help the displaced people in the Middle East led her to found the Ponybaby Project, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the education of refugee children.


In 2014, she decided to return to Lebanon to document the lives of young people there. Finding a videographer was tough — her first one dropped out after a terrorist attack in Paris — but her editor connected her to Olmo Reverter. Together Cao and Reverter made a documentary called The Hard Stop: The Plight of Syrian Refugee Children, which reached more than 10 million viewers in China alone.


“Flying over with Olmo and shooting that first documentary was really a turning point in my life,” says Cao, who is 30. “I had no idea at the time that I was going to carry on with this project. What I really wanted to do was tell their stories.”


Within a year the team had officially set up the Ponybaby Project. Cao and her partners tell moving stories through articles, documentaries, and photo exhibitions. In honor of World Refugee Day, she and her team hosted a panel discussion on the crisis in Syria at WeWork Shanghai Finance Center.


Cao says the name was inspired by a verse in a famous Chinese poem, which loosely translates to: “Take your dream as a horse, act your glorious youth.”


The Ponybaby Project partnered with Pear Video, one of China’s leading video platforms, to broadcast its Orphans of the World series. It recently embarked on a new series called Their Responses that follows more than a dozen Syrian refugees living across the Middle East. The Ponybaby Project also teamed up with Tencent Charity, one of the leading fundraising platforms in China, to help raise money to help refugees directly.


Niu Song, a professor of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, likes the “community spirit” displayed by the Ponybaby Project team.


“I believe that the stories and documentaries displayed by Ponybaby Project, as first-hand information, can honestly uncover the real status of the refugees, including their basic life, children’s education, job employment, and willingness to return to their home country,” says Song, who was among the speakers at the panel discussion.


All of the funds raised by the Ponybaby Project go towards scholarships for families living in refugee camps who can’t afford their children’s school fees, materials, and books.


“Almost 90 percent of Syrian refugees are in debt,” says Lisa Abou Khaled, who works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Parents are having to resort to difficult choices like pulling their children out of school and sending them to work because they can’t afford to feed the family anymore.”


Since Cao’s first visit to the Middle East, the humanitarian crisis in Syria has claimed the lives of 70,000 civilians and displaced 5 million others. Despite the scale of trauma, Cao says the refugee crisis is rarely discussed in her native China. But that’s part of the goal—to start the conversation by bringing the personal stories of refugees to households across the country.


“Many people don’t have a chance to talk with refugees, so they have a very unclear concept of who they are,” says Cao. “They’re often treated like wild animals, vulnerable and unpredictable. But they want to live with respect and dignity, just like everyone else.”

Even before the lights went up on the stage, the WeWork Creator Awards was literally one of the biggest events of the year in Jerusalem. Nearly 4,000 people packed a stadium that usually hosts basketball games, and they came from as far away as Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Be’er Sheva. It was also the largest regional competition so far for the awards, hosted in cities around the world.

At the job fair and pop-up market held before the awards, there were so many people that it was sometimes difficult to navigate the aisles. People eagerly pushed forward for free samples of food — even crispy grasshoppers.

When WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann finally stepped onto the stage, the event had the feeling of a homecoming. Neumann and his sister Adi Neumann, a model who hosted the event, both grew up on a kibbutz not far away.

“It’s a really special city and really special to be here,” said Adi from what is usually the home court for the HaPoel Jerusalem Basketball Club.

This is the second time the Creator Awards has been held in Israel. In October more than $1 million was awarded to winners at an event in Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem — where a WeWork location is slated to open later this year — a total of $774,000 went to eight winners.

Here are some of the most unique and exciting highlights of the evening.

Most progressive fashion statement: More than 30 local artists, companies, and nonprofit organizations took part in a pop-up market on the arena’s concourse. There were bright paintings on canvas, glittering jewelry, natural beauty products, and plenty of T-shirts, including some emblazoned with the words “I’m Not for Sale,” part of a campaign against prostitution and human trafficking by the local nonprofit Turning the Tables, which was also a finalist at the Creator Awards.

Best product you can bury: Perhaps the most intriguing items for sale were paper greeting cards that weren’t just recyclable — they could actually be planted in the ground. Made by the Israeli company Paper Bloom, there are nine types of seeds embedded in the paper of the cards, resulting in several types of flowers that bloom throughout the year.

Best way to attract a crowd: More than 30 companies and nonprofits staffed tables at the event’s job fair, including half a dozen Creator Awards winners from last year’s event in Tel Aviv., The participants, like Yahoo’s Israeli R&D team and Taboola, were looking to hire a total of more than 70 people. Among the most attention-grabbing booths was that of the Israel Innovation Fund, a nonprofit promoting culture and creativity in Israel, whose table was covered with bottles of local wine.

Most popular souvenir: The most intriguing table at the job fair belonged to Hargol, an Israeli company that produces food products made from grasshoppers. The company — the top winner at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards — caught many people’s eyes with jars of roasted grasshoppers. About 40 percent of people who stopped by the table sampled them, leaving their transparent wings and crispy legs in little piles on the table. Many people then pocketed full jars to take home. “People keep taking them when we’re not looking,” said Hargol CEO Dror Tamir. “I don’t blame them. It really is the best souvenir.”

Most practical swag: The most in-demand item of the evening appeared to be bright red bags emblazoned with the words “Work Happy.” These were from Jobbio, the Dublin-based online hiring platform. “Personally I think they are quite eye-catching,” said Jobbio’s account manager Martha Hayes, who traveled from Dublin to attend the event in Jerusalem. “And they are a useful place to keep the rest of your swag.”

Favorite food: At a moment when Israeli cuisine has been making global headlines, tables filled with local specialties were scattered throughout the event’s pop-up market and job fair. Popular items included fresh pitas stuffed with chicken, lamb, fish, or roasted vegetables and topped with cilantro-infused tahini. There were also tiny jars of creamy malabi pudding topped with pomegranate syrup and pistachio nuts. But the biggest hit may have been the chocolate chip cookies, baked on the premises in a giant oven by Pilpel Catering. “Holy Moses, these are good,” said one person who sampled them.

Most creative cocktail: Open bars served beer, wine, and craft cocktails all night long. People seemed to love the Golden City, a drink inspired by Jerusalem and made from vodka and honey and garnished with fresh cucumbers.

Most mind-blowing performance: For those who could tear themselves away from the party-like scene at the pop-up market, the highlight of the masterclasses was a show by Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard. As usual, the internationally known performer wowed the audience by reading people’s minds. At one point he seemed to know some participants better than they knew themselves. When asking one woman how many letters were in the name of her first crush, she kept saying five. Suchard replied, “Are you sure it isn’t six?” Sure enough, Suchard guessed the name, and there were indeed six letters.

Most tear-inducing moment: After the audience heard inspiring stories from all of the night’s finalists, it was Kaima Farm, which helps teeneagers who have dropped out of school, that took home the top prize for nonprofit ventures. Yoni Yefet-Reich, Kaima’s CEO, immediately handed the prize over to one of the teenagers who said his life had been transformed by his time on the farm.

Biggest winner: The $360,000 grand prize went to Yehudit Abrams, a recent American immigrant to Israel, for her startup MonitHer, which is developing a hand-held ultrasound device women can use for monthly breasts exams. The device will alert them to any changes in tissue, a key to early diagnosis of breast cancer. “I’m empowering women,” Abrams said, holding up her award.

Best show of hometown pride: Moments after Abrams was showered in sparkly confetti, another top figure in women’s empowerment, Netta Barzilai, who recently propelled Israel to Eurovision champion with her song “Toy,” took the stage to kick off the real party part of the evening. The crowd gathered around her, wildly snapping photos.

When Raffi Rembrand’s son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4, it was not the worst news the family received that day. The biggest blow came when their doctor said it was too late for the earliest treatments.

So for Rembrand, a chemical engineer by training, finding a way to detect autism earlier became his life’s mission.

Now, more than three decades after his son was diagnosed with autism, Rembrand has founded an Israeli company, SensPD, which he hopes will accomplish just that. 

SensPD, a winner in the WeWork Creator Awards held on June 20 in Jerusalem, is developing a way to detect autism based on physiological signs. The company uses an existing device commonly used to check the hearing of newborns, but has modified it to check for sensory perception. One of the major components of autism, which affects one of every 59 children born in the U.S., is its effect on the sensory system.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel,” says Maayan Shahar, SensPD’s CEO.  “But we have altered a very known device used in all hospitals that will hopefully provide a standard screening process for all babies.”

The goal is for such a test to eventually become standard for every baby born around the world, allowing the various treatments for autism to start as soon as possible. When started very early in life, some therapies have a success rate of up to 90 percent.

“It’s been known for a long time that it’s early intervention that makes all the difference,” Shahar says.

But the standard diagnosis of autism based on a series of evaluations often comes after a children has reached the age of 3 or 4, which is too late for some treatments.

SensPD is currently preparing to start clinical trials in Israel. It hopes that if all goes well it will get regulatory approval for its device within three years.

Rembrand’s son, now 35 and living in a group home in Israel, remains an inspiration for the company.

“We want to bring this to market as soon as possible, but in the most professional way,” Shahar says.  ”So that instead of being isolated, children with autism can be a productive part of society.”



Source: wework.com