Robots will Replace us, but not to Worry

A Talk with Novo Nordisk’s Sorela Kurbegovic on the Rise of the Machines

Sorela Kurbegovic, Senior Engineer at Novo Nordisk, says with confidence and a challenging glint in her eye that one day robots will make our jobs obsolete. “In the future, robots will take over even professional jobs—maybe even my own,” insists Sorela.

Sorela, who is currently working to build more intelligent processes and machines at Novo Nordisk, acknowledges that while the rise of the machines hasn’t fully affected her work yet, trends she sees in the industry indicate that this won’t be the case for long.

Her argument is simple: robots learn and retain knowledge quicker and cheaper than we humans. For instance, if we have to learn something new we might go to a training session. To pass that info along, we’d either have to teach someone else, or send them to the same session. For robots, this is the click of a button. This brings about the situation, explains Sorela, where “robots don’t even have to be better than us, they just have to be as good as us.”

The goal for now, as Sorela explains of her work, is “trying to build more intelligent machines so we can get more information out.” Then, as she describes, the task is to find smart ways to use this data. Ultimately, she hopes, this will mean self-learning, self-optimizing machines that can do more than pre-programed tasks. To reach these goals, management must be open and supportive because, as she notes, “there is always a higher risk in the beginning when you implement new things.” Luckily, this is a support she feels she has at Novo Nordisk. “I can see management becoming more open to this and seeing the light,” she exclaims.

In terms of robots taking over our jobs, Sorela acknowledges, “It will not all happen from one day to another, but over time a lot of jobs will be eliminated.” With technology developing at lightning speed and at cheaper costs, she explains, we might see major changes sooner, rather than later. Further, she notes, many jobs already have been converted into more interesting things.

If what you’ve read thus far makes you picture flying cars and food pills, fret not. Sorela stresses, these aren’t full-sized robots just walking around. They can be anything from an arm on a conveyer belt to a software system. They are, however, becoming more user-friendly. In the past, she explains, such machines required intensive coding and were dangerous. If you walked in front of them they would likely hit you. Now, she explains, there exist machines with sensors that will stop if you come in their path and can mimic motion with little to no programing required—Perfect for robot human collaboration.? “In the beginning I think it will be a lot of collaboration with the robots and then, eventually, they will take over,” reasons Sorela.

So what does this mean for us? It is a good thing, she explains. While the thought of machines taking over is daunting, explains Sorela, it’s happening slowly and much of it has already happened. We have robots vacuuming our homes, GPS in our car, self-driving lawnmowers, planes that can land themselves—and we like it! Right now, Sorela continues, a doctor can perform surgery on a patient in another room, soon he or she can be in another country and eventually, we don’t even need the doctor. “I don’t think I can even remember how to use a map anymore,” she laughs, reflecting on the prevalence of GPS these days.

This is not to say there won’t be value in the human touch, explains Sorela, “I think people will always want to be in contact with other people and they will want to purchase things made by people.”

Right now it’s hard to look 20 years ahead and picture what the world will look like, Sorela explains, “I can also not imagine everything being done by robots. It’s hard to imagine these things.” That said, she continues, “It will come. I just can’t say when, how and to which extent.?

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