“We need to let robots take over. They will do jobs we have been doing, and do them much better than we can. They will do jobs we can’t do at all. They will do jobs we never imagined even needed to be done. And they will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.” – Kevin Kelly, Wired
Should you worry about robots becoming self-aware and rising up to enslave humanity? Probably not. Should you be worried about a robot one day taking your job? Depending on the trade you’re in, the answer to that question might very well be “yes.”
Yesterday, Wired ran a great feature piece on Why Robots Will – And Must – Take Our Jobs, in which they argue that we shouldn’t be worried about such a thing happening, but rather we should welcome it. Here’s why they are (partly) right:
It’s hard to believe you’d have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that—in slow motion—is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived—appliance repairman, offset printer, food chemist, photographer, web designer—each building on previous automation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.
It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation. Yes, dear reader, even you will have your job taken away by machines. In other words, robot replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.
But do you fall into that 70% category, dear human software tester? Good question, right?
I should begin this discussion by pointing out that many software testers have already been replaced by robots. Think of all the automated test tools at one’s disposal. Chances are, these tools either replaced a team of human testers or (more likely) spared such a team from even being formed. And of course, replace is not the right word to use in this instance. A better way to think of it would be that automation freed up QA professionals to focus on other areas.
But I digress. The question I asked was whether robots will eventually replace all human software testers. I say no. Not only because my audience happens to be human testers, but because software testing requires knowledge that robots will probably never possess. I’m not alone in this camp either. Here is what testing guru James Whittaker once had to say on the matter:
“Test automation is often built to solve too big a problem. This broad scope makes automation brittle and flaky because it’s trying to do too much. There are certain things that automation is good at and certain things humans are good at and it seems to me a hybrid approach is better. What I want is automation that makes my job as a human easier. Automation is good at analyzing data and noticing patterns. It is not good at determining relevance and making judgment calls. Fortunately humans excel at judgment.”
And there’s the rub: Software testing requires human judgment! Sure there are certain pass-fail tasks that can be automated, but most of those have already been automated. What robots can’t do (at least not yet anyway) is show judgment with regard to software. Here are a few examples:
Functionality: To a robot, a feature might be working exactly as expected. But a human user will understand why it isn’t. If you’ve ever gotten lost with a GPS, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Usability: Will a robot ever be able to explain why a certain layout is preferable to another? Or why icons and buttons should be a certain color? Or why a certain user flow is not intuitive? Usability testing – more so than any other testing type – will continue to be the domain of human testers for a very long time.
Localization: We’ve seen this countless times: A website or application is translated by an automated tool, but the translation is either overtly literal or totally wrong. It has no cultural context – and neither do robots (again, for now).
Security: Getting robots to have the same thought process and motivation of a human tester (or hacker) isn’t happening anytime soon. To my knowledge, a robot has yet to hack a website or steal someone’s identity.
Here at uTest, we think – nay, know – that humans will always be involved in the testing process. That should be obvious by now. But to learn more about why this will be the case, be sure to check out our whitepaper on in-the-wild testing.
And if, however, you are in one of those professions that can be replaced by robots, here are the seven steps you’ll go through according to Wired:
- A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
- OK, it can do a lot of them, but it can’t do everything I do.
- OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
- OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
- OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
- Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more fun and pays more!
- I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.
Do you think that human testers will eventually be replaced by robots? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section (not bots allowed).