I once took a course where the teacher said that, given the right gear, he could teach a monkey to perform a root canal.
At the time, we made fun of the concept. It was an exaggeration, of course, to promote the wares peddled by the course’s sponsor. But the idea stuck. And today, I think back on it with some sympathy.
Performing a root canal is mostly a mechanical act. It requires a certain sensitivity; you need the knowledge of how to treat each canal relative to its shape and thickness. But, when it comes down to it, it’s manual labour of mechanical repetition.
I confess my ignorance regarding a monkey’s motor skills. But I don’t see why, within the next 10 years, we can’t have a robot doing the work of a dentist. And doing it better than most dentists!
Does this mean that dentists would face unemployment? No; at least not immediately. I think it would take a few more decades until the robots would be able to discern what to do in each case.
The robot would be better than the human at knowing the pressure to be applied; how to handle the instrument; how deep to go, safely; the exact amount of irrigation to apply to the canal; etc. But it would rely on the dentist for:
- Determining what kind of treatment to perform.
- Specifying the operation’s parameters (I.E .: choosing the appropriate program for the type of canal)
That is, the dental profession would be less about manual labor, and more about diagnosis and identification of the proper treatment process. Which would free dentists for more intellectual work, and give them the capacity to work on many more cases.
Of course, this has a drawback: in some countries (this is the case in Portugal) we already have more dentists than we have work for them. So what would happen when the dentists most likely to acquire technology became hundreds of times more productive, freed from the need for manual labor?
And this being a problem that affects such an extremely specialised professional class, what to say about simpler jobs, such as driving trucks or collecting garbage? The robots will need a human supervisor, but they will replace many more workers than will be needed to control them… After all, they are more efficient and don’t need to sleep.
Mechanization is at our doorstep. We have to think seriously about a way of disassociating the income needed for a dignified life from one’s working hours.
Because in our future, there are many robots, and much less work for almost everyone.
Photo Credit: DocChewbacca Flickr via Compfight cc