This video is about telerobotics and what it means for future globalisation. Surely, you’ve seen coverage in the media about artificial intelligence, especially when it’s combined with robots. But artificial intelligence is not the only way to get a robot to do things. There is also remote intelligence. The telerobots are, in essence, a robot which is controlled with joysticks from far away. Now, it’s used already today. Let me show you two examples in this slide. In the left side, we have what’s called telesurgery. So this involves a surgeon in a special room with special devices controlling a robot, which is in another room, a long ways away.
And the robot is actually holding the knives and the needles and things like that and doing the operation. So here is an example of a surgery that was done on a patient that was 400 kilometres away. Now, these machines are relatively expensive. And obviously, they’re not everywhere. But they have been proved to be useful when there’s an urgent situation where there’s not enough time, or it’s too difficult to get the patient to the surgeon or the surgeon to the patient. So it’s used routinely now, although it’s difficult and expensive. On the right side is another version of telerobots that you’ve surely all seen. It’s drones.
And what we have there is, at the top, a pilot sitting in the United States operating a drone, which is flying in a foreign country a long ways away. It’s perhaps somewhat sad that the two main uses of telerobots today are, on the one hand, to save lives and, the other, to end lives. But it sort of reflects the fact that it’s all very expensive and only makes sense in very extreme situations. But it’s not going to stay that way. Telerobots and the transmission and the understanding of [? it ?] is going to get better. In fact, many research teams are working on improving telerobots. Consider these two examples.
The European Space Agency and NASA are working on improving telerobot controls. The problem they have here is how do you make the robot do exactly what the human wanted to do in a very natural way? Now, on the first side, you have this kind of elaborate control device on the arm of the human. And it communicates to the robot, which you can see there, how it’s supposed to move everything, move the arm, move the hand. So it’s a very kind of natural extension of it, which makes it very easy for people to do without a great deal of training.
The other one is where the young man is wearing 3D glasses and watching a 3D projection, which is being taken from a camera on the robot. And he’s controlling joysticks, very much like you might in a video game, getting the robot to do very particular things. So in both these cases, they’re finding out ways which make it easier for humans to control robots remotely. Now, think about the jobs that telerobots could offshore. If you look at this slide here, I have pictures, a few pictures. Now, some of these pictures are real, and some of them are from science fiction movies. And I will let you guess maybe which one is which.
But let me talk you through while you’re trying to guess. So the first one is a robot that’s doing household chores– in this case, unloading a dishwasher. Now, that has been driven partly by artificial intelligence. But it would be very easy to drive it with remote intelligence. Say, somebody sitting in Guatemala could be clearing out dishwashers in, say, Arizona. In the next one, we see a telerobot helping a disabled person. Disabled people frequently need help, but they don’t necessarily need somebody in the house all the time. And what these telerobots would do would allow somebody from a developing country, say, a nurse in Kenya, to provide services to disabled people when they need it far away.
The next one is the medical telerobot, which we saw before. But you could just imagine it with more capabilities. The doctor could be taking heartbeats, measuring the reaction time, and things like that, if the telerobot was more capable. And what we have in the lower corner there is a telerobot being used in a dangerous situation. So these are actually being used in demolishing a building. And what you can see is that the demolishing things are robots, but they’re being controlled by a worker, which is standing only a few metres away, so that he himself can see exactly what’s going on. Now, with a little imagination and a bit better technology, that worker could be hundreds of kilometres away.
Or, say, we could have a whole series of the machines, each one with its own teleremote operator, and one or two people on the local site actually seeing exactly what’s going on. And then, these other two are from science fiction movies, a robot driving a bus or a robot doing household chores. But any case, once you get your mind around it, that manual services could be provided in one country driven by a worker sitting in another country, having seen the vast wage differences that exist, you can imagine that there are many, many services that could be provided in rich countries by workers sitting in poor countries. Another point to note.
Many people will argue that this kind of trade in services is difficult because of the language barrier. And indeed, now, things with call centres, software, or video production teams like the one we have right here in this room, language is an issue. But there is instant translation technology that’s rapidly advancing, which allows real-time, instant translation between languages. When that gets a little better, and it’s already partly there– you can go on your iPhone and get iTranslate, for example. This would essentially open up almost the whole world to providing services to other nations. It is really like Star Trek with instantaneous communication and translation.
Given these vast wage differences and the fact that telerobots will get better and cheaper, we should anticipate that many jobs, at least aspects of jobs, will be taken over by telerobots– in other words, robots that are controlled by people sitting in another country. I guess these changes are likely to happen in a way that’s a bit like what happened with call centres in the 1990s and 2000s. In the original call centres, you’d call up somebody to complain about, say, your telephone service. And that person would actually be sitting in your country, maybe even in your same city. As telecommunications and the costs of phones got cheaper, they started outsourcing those jobs.
But at first, it would be instead of in New York City, the person would be in upstate New York, where salaries are lower. And then, when that got cheaper, then they started outsourcing it to, say, India. But all this time, there was never a complete replacement of local workers. So although there might have been a dozen Indian workers answering calls, if things went wrong, and you eventually got the managers, the managers could be people in New York City, for example. And I suspect it’ll be something like that with robots. Originally, the telerobots will be controlled by people nearby, but perhaps in the same country, but in a rural region where wages are lower. And then, they could eventually be offshored.
But all along, there will be local workers involved to take care of unexpected circumstances or specific problems, just like there are in call centres. To summarise, telepresence and telerobotics are likely to transform globalisation, in my view, the same way that the steam revolution transformed globalisation in the early 19th century and the way the ICT revolution transformed globalisation in the 20th century. These changes will be very disruptive in rich nations. And they will create a great deal of opportunity in developing nations.
In particular, in the rich nations, there are a whole set of workers, high-skilled service workers and low-skilled service workers, who have been completely protected from the forces of globalisation by the high costs of moving people, or in other words, the high cost of face-to-face and the need for face-to-face. When this technology lowers the cost of face-to-face, these workers, who tend to be at the very high end of the wage scale– think of doctors and accountants and lawyers and such– and at the lower end– think about security guards or receptionists in buildings– they will start to feel the effects of globalisation directly. I think it’s important that governments prepare for this.
The main thing is to realise that globalisation will not just be an extension of what we’ve been seeing. It could change radically one more time. In developing nations, the telepresence and telerobotics could be transformational. Many developing nations have been either too far away to join into the sort of back and forth trade that’s necessary in global manufacturing, the kinds of trade that has helped Poland and Mexico and China industrialise so rapidly. Or they’ve lacked the sort of infrastructure. Maybe they were landlocked. Or maybe they don’t have the right port services or telecommunications services to participate in this.
But proximity and physical infrastructure is not as important for this kind of trade in services that will be going over a wire than it is for things like trade in goods. You don’t need the ships and planes and ports. All you really need is either good satellite connection or a good cable connection. What this means is that offshoring is likely to spread to more developing nations, especially in Africa and South America, who have been largely left outside of the gains from the new globalisation, except for exporting of commodities, as we talked about before.
Many of the people with middle and high skills in poor nations will, through telepresence and telerobotics, be able to sell their efforts at a higher price in developing countries. And by the same token, developed countries’ professionals who are really good at what they do will be able to sell their services in a wider range of developing countries. That, in essence, is telepresence and telerobotics and how it will change the future of globalisation.