Robots Can’t Replace Human Software Testers, Right?

“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

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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:

  1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
  2. OK, it can do a lot of them, but it can’t do everything I do.
  3. OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
  4. OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
  5. OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
  6. Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more fun and pays more!
  7. 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).

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Comments

  1. says

    I agree Michael Bolton’s article on Emotions in Testing provides a good counter-balance to robots replacing human testing. I’ll be giving a talk on Human Testing for Mobile Apps in Vietnam in April and have posted a brief introduction online at http://blog.bettersoftwaretesting.com/?p=88

    If you are interested in more details please let me know.

    Julian

  2. says

    The robots can never replace human testers.Though robots perform faster than humans but it has nothing to do with the testing app as it is completely dependent on load of the app.

  3. Kashif says

    It’s a great article. I’m a software tester so I am thinking about human tester in terms of software tester and completely ignoring the hardware. So keeping this in mind, I don’t see any good reason why and how robots can benefit human testers. Since, everybody follows rapid developments, we’ve usually 15 days iterations and requirements gets changed very frequently, so if we use robot testers we’ll spend lot of time training the robots so what’s the benefit? Humans are also fast learners and especially when the requirements are changed, they can easily understand the impact and the level of change instead of robots.

    @ santhosh “Robot can work faster than human”. It doesn’t matter if the robots can work fast, because its speed is going to be totally dependent on the application response time.

    However, AI part of robots can be used in testing tools to help human testers improve the testing. AI can help in generating test cases and combinations of test cases, refactoring test cases based on changes, and predicting the expected results. It would be one step next to automation.

  4. Mihai Ionita says

    Today I read the article “Emotions in Testing”, by Michael Bolton.

    Now I read about the Robots in this post.

    And I can say without hesitation that the Robot can be trained to replace a human software tester, but only up to a point. The Robot will not have emotions.

  5. santhosh mayal says

    Robot can work faster than human,But can’t thing like human.Basic qualification for a tester need a good thinking. So robot as a tester is quite difficult.

  6. Pradeep Lingan says

    Not exactly , the Robot can replace a part of human software testers work, not an entire one. There is a huge difference with the Human brain and the automated machines. machine respond to the command, but the human brain can think the (+ve and -ve) .

  7. Chuck says

    Hello -

    This has been the pattern since the industrial revolution. Job loss accelerates when a recession hits because the economy becomes more efficient (aka automated) during the recession. I think any job can be automated out of existence. As a programmer I have probably automated X number of jobs out of existence. … And then they came for me …

    Cliche Chucky

  8. Nicholas Bretagna says

    The main place where automation is going to take the place of humans is in manufacturing. Robotics will do for Manufacturing what Mechanization did for Agriculture — take a job once done by 90% of humanity and turn it into one done by 2-4% of humanity.

    The NEXT economy — the “Post-industrial” economy of the 60s — The one which follows the Agricultural Economy and the Industrial Economy — is the “IP & Services Economy” — that is, all the REAL wealth of the next century is going to come from creating IP and providing Services. The USA is uniquely situated to take advantage of this, because of its polyglot nature — with its “Melting Pot”, if IP works here, if it gains widespread acceptance, then it will sell ANYWHERE in the world. That’s why Anglo-American music is so popular everywhere. It’s why Anglo-American movies are so popular around the world — They resonate across all cultures fairly well, much better than those of any monolithic culture.

    Robots can’t replace human software testers because of the fact that AI can’t begin to handle, at this point, the kind of unpredictability that the world can throw at someone solving a problem.

    I was told a story by someone back in the 1980s.

    A US Navy department regularly, reliably did backups. To floppies, mind you, this was EARLY personal computing. They had a reliable system for cycling through the backups, keeping them at daily, weekly, and monthly intervals for years.

    Along comes the day when the hard drive fails. A replacement is installed. The latest backup is pulled from the fireproof walkin safe they were kept in, and the restore process is initiated…

    “I/O Error”.
    Couldn’t read the disk.

    OK, previous backup:
    “I/O Error”.
    Nope, no valid disk here, either.

    Needless to say, ALL the backups were non-functional.

    Well, this was a NAVY department, and someone had to be found who was at fault.

    Well, after a long investigation, something interesting was noted.

    What is a bulk eraser?
    An Electromagnet.

    What is an electromagnet?
    A large hunk of steel with a wire, with current running through it, wrapped around it.

    What, IS A LARGE WALK-IN FIREPROOF SAFE?
    A large hunk of steel.

    Guess where the main electrical conduit for the entire building ran right next to?
    The large, walk-in fireproof safe.

    Yes, the safe had turned into a giant BULK ERASER.
    I was told they tested it — the safe would render any floppies placed in it unreadable within 24 hours.

    Now, this offers TWO lessons, I would suggest:

    1 – It’s a pain, but recovery checks should be a part of any backup regimen.

    2 – No matter how careful you are, no matter how many steps you have taken to prevent catastrophe, the universe is prepared to find some way to *ahem* you in the butt regardless of those efforts. The universe, being nearly infinite, is deviously inventive far beyond finite human preparatory capacity.

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