Inventions That Will End Work As We Know It

In America, we like to celebrate Labor Day by ditching work. But one day you may never have to labor again. Here are four inventions that will eliminate working-class and professional jobs in the next 50 years.

Emotional Robots

What are they?
Emotional robots are robots who can read human facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language to determine the emotional state of the person addressing them. The robot can then simulate an appropriate emotional response using its own tone, facial expressions, and actions. For example, if a person is angry, the robot can behave in a contrite way; if a person is upset the robot can be soothing. They are being developed in research labs, and have been deployed in a limited way in some hospitals in the US and Japan. Two of the more famous emotional robots are Kismet, developed by roboticist Cynthia Breazeal at MIT, whose facial expressions might be crude but are nevertheless very effective; and the Actroid series of robots developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University in Japan. (You can see the Actroid Repliee Q1 in the video below.)

Whose jobs will be eliminated?
Emotional robots are ideally suited for a number of working-class or retail jobs. They will work in hospitals and homes as caretakers, eliminating those jobs for humans. Who wants somebody surly and underpaid taking care of their bedridden grandmother? Emotional robots will also take over receptionist jobs and retail work in many stores. They are incapable of becoming angry or upset when customers yell at them or make strange demands. If a customer is upset, the emotional robot will always act sorry and mean it. In fact, robots have already taken over some customer care services - that's why when you call the phone company or other large businesses, you have to yell at an automated system instead of interacting with people in order to get the information you're looking for. Pretty soon, you'll be yelling at robots in person too, when you walk into your neighborhood Sprint store to figure out what the hell those charges are on your mobile phone bill.

Surgeon Robots

Inventions That Will End Work As We Know It

What are they?
Surgeon robots are just what they sound like - a pair of robotic arms equipped with a camera that can conduct surgeries with precision and speed that no human could ever muster. They have already been used successfully in several surgeries. Sometimes the robot arms are controlled by a human, but several successful surgeries have been performed by robots operating autonomously.

Whose jobs will be eliminated?
Surgeons will be eliminated, or will be turned into technicians rather than exalted mega-doctors. This goes to prove that robots don't just threaten the jobs of regular working people - they will also eliminate professional middle-class jobs too. Or they will turn formerly high-paid, highly-trained surgeons into skilled labor like forklift operators.

Brain-computer interfaces

What are they?
Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) are any piece of technology that allows your brain to control a computer directly. One of the most famous examples of this technology is BrainGate, a device that plugs directly into your brain and carries electrical signals from it to a computer. People who use BrainGate are able to control a computer cursor, which has allowed people who are completely paralyzed to communicate again by moving a cursor over a virtual keyboard and typing out words. Future kinds of BCIs will operate wirelessly. One example of wireless BCI was an experiment done on a rat who could be remote-controlled from a distance when operators sent electrical signals to the parts of his brain responsible for directing his body left or right. Often called the "robo-rat," (see video below) this creature demonstrated that BCI works both ways, wirelessly: You can send signals from your brain to a computer, and send signals to somebody's brain too.

Whose jobs will be eliminated?
Brain implants could change the jobs of machine operators. Operating heavy machinery might move from being a physical job to being a mental one. You could use your brain to control a robot who is digging up a fuel tank, or laying cement.

Other jobs that might be profoundly changed are entertainment-industry related. Cameras and sound systems could be brain-controlled, possibly allowing for new kinds of camerawork that will be more crazily vivid than anything we've seen before.

Either way, people trained on the manual systems for industrial machines and cameras will have to learn to use BCI or get downsized.

Augmented reality contact lenses

What is it?
Augmented reality contact lenses are basically computer monitors that go directly on top of your eyes, like contact lenses. As a result, you see computer information overlaid on the world you're looking at around you. You could look down a street and see little pop-ups full of information about local stores - or navigate your way to the nearest public bathroom by watching glowing yellow arrows on the street leading you to a cafe with a toilet. And yes, you could also look up into the beautiful, blue sky and see a million Google ads for sky-related products.

You could also be reading io9 in your contacts while your boss yells at you, or watching porn while your parents take you out to dinner to talk about their new kitchen remodel.

Inventions That Will End Work As We Know It

Whose jobs will be eliminated?
Like BCI, augmented reality lenses won't eliminate jobs but simply transform existing jobs so much that people trained in the old ways won't be employable anymore.

Already, augmented reality type technologies are used in architecture, to visualize what a building or a given set of structures will look like on the street. Imagine being able to design a building while standing in the vacant lot where it will eventually stand, matching its walls precisely to the proper angles and observing in real life how the sunlight will hit its windows. These contacts will also make it easier for building inspectors of all types to check that structures are up to code: Just stroll around a factory and compare what you're seeing with a virtual overlay of what's supposed to be there (or not there).

There are also thousands of ways such a technology could transform work that we haven't thought of yet. As augmented reality contact lens developer Babak A. Parviz wrote recently, "We already see a future in which the humble contact lens becomes a real platform, like the iPhone is today, with lots of developers contributing their ideas and inventions."

Illustration of contact lens: Emily Cooper