Ready to work with a smart robot? Some Dayton workers already are

AI, automation could put thousands of jobs in Dayton at risk, but it’s also a growing industry that needs lots of workers.

The rapid growth of artificial intelligence and automation presents threats — and opportunities — for workers and businesses in the Miami Valley.

More than 31,600 people in the Dayton metro area work in the five largest occupations at high risk of automation, according to data the Brookings Institution prepared exclusively for the Dayton Daily News. Those jobs include food preparation, waiters, stock clerks, tractor-trailer truck drivers and accounting clerks.

But about 34,600 people in the region that includes Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties work in the largest low-risk occupations. Those include registered nurses, freight and stock movers, janitors, customer service representatives and general managers, according to the Brookings data.

“There’s always a fear the robots are coming,” said Dean Elkins, of Yaskawa America Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division, which is located in Miamisburg.



“Human interaction will never go away, I assure you. Robots and humans need to be very collaborative in nature. Humans need to program the robots. Humans need to invent and design and program all these sensory devices for all of this to happen,” said Elkins, who is the company’s segment leader for material handling. “AI is creating a whole new skill set demand within engineering.”

The Dayton Daily News Path Forward initiative seeks solutions to the most pressing issues in our community, including the need for the Dayton region and its workforce to be prepared for the future. In this story we dig into what automation and artificial intelligence will mean to our workforce and employers.

While artificial intelligence undoubtedly puts some jobs at risk, experts told us it’s unlikely to replace huge swaths of the American workforce any time soon.

RELATED: Jobs expert: ‘This is going to be an epidemic’

And AI is definitely a growth area for the local economy, said David Burke, president of DaytonDefense, a defense industry advocacy group.

“There’s a lot of good work and good opportunity for us in the Dayton region,” he said.

Multiple local companies develop, sell or use AI technology. They include the University of Dayton, Evanhoe & Associates, Mile Two, Galois Inc., Tangram Flex Inc., LexisNexis Legal and Professional. Motoman pairs its robots with AI technology. And AI is in use at Huntington Bancshares, Kroger Co., Premier Health and Kettering Health Network.

Dubbed the “fourth industrial revolution,” this technology has advanced much more quickly than previous economic transformations. It’s fueling a local demand for people trained in science, technology, engineering and math.

“We need more computer scientists and data scientists in our region,” said Chuck Evanhoe, president of Evanhoe & Associates Inc., a Riverside-based information technology solutions company using AI to identify supply chain risk for the U.S. Air Force.

Jobs at risk

Artificial intelligence — often called AI — is computer software and hardware that allows machines to perform tasks that mimic human intelligence and perception. AI technology includes machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and computer vision. It can process massive amounts of data, come to conclusions about it and make decisions.

Some jobs will be replaced by the technology, said Ben Pring, managing director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a technology services company.

“At the same time to over-extrapolate that suddenly there’s this jobs apocalypse and millions of jobs go away in the blink of an eye, that’s unrealistic as well,” Pring said. “So what’s really going to happen in the next five to 10 years is that, yes, probably about 10 percent of jobs will go away. But at the same time we will create new work.”

Advances in technology, the economic pressure of a global economy, a shortage of qualified workers and the push for profits has accelerated automation in the workplace, which for decades has been replacing jobs and often boosting American productivity. Artificial intelligence takes automation to the next level.

This Motoman video showing the company’s robots at work

A quarter of U.S. jobs — 36 million — face a high risk of automation by 2030 because more than 70 percent of those jobs’ tasks can be automated using currently available technology, according to a new study of automation and artificial intelligence by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. Another 36 percent of the U.S. jobs are at medium risk, with 30 to 70 percent of the jobs’ tasks automatable.

“For those that have a bachelor’s degree, this is likely to be manageable. The problem is most people don’t have a bachelor’s degree,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow at Brookings and co-author of the study.

RELATED: How do we get the economy to boom for all?

Jobs that involve routine, predictable physical and cognitive tasks are the most vulnerable to automation, the study says. That includes office administration, production, transportation and food preparation.



The least vulnerable jobs are those occupations requiring complex and creative technical and professional skills — often requiring higher-level education — and low-paying jobs like personal care and domestic service that require more “interpersonal and emotional intelligence,” the study says.

The three fastest-growing low-risk occupations employing at least 1,000 people in the Dayton metro areaare personal care aides, market research analysts and specialists, and software developers, Muro said.

“Ohio has over the last 26 years gained jobs. So the fear isn’t of a job apocalypse. The fear isn’t mass unemployment,” Muro said. “The fear is the loss of middle-skill jobs and the past shift into low-skill jobs. And now the new technologies will put more pressure on people in those lower-skill jobs.”

RELATED: These jobs are expected to see the highest demand in Ohio through 2024

Industries likely to fundamentally change due to artificial intelligence and automation include health care, transportation, law, call centers, education, software, logistics, agriculture, elder care and manufacturing, according to a 2018 book co-edited by James Timbie, a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

“One result will be less expensive, better quality, and more customized goods and services, plus an improved standard of living,” Timbie wrote. “Another result will be loss of employment for workers in a broad range of skill and income levels.”

Timbie notes there is broad disagreement over whether the jobs lost will be offset by job gains. But he said it’s clear workers at all levels will soon face accelerating disruption, with the greatest affect on low- and middle-income workers without a college education.

Skills gap is a hurdle

The Dayton region has undergone tremendous economic change in the past decade, losing thousands of well-paying auto industry jobs that didn’t require a college education. But the region also has become more economically diverse. Part of that diversity comes from the growing high-tech sector tied to the state’s largest single-site employer, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, as well as the health care/bio-sciences and logistics industries.

RELATED: 3 reasons Wright-Patterson is top choice for F-35 program

“Dayton is going through a renaissance right now and a lot of that renaissance is being driven by technology,” said Motoman’s Elkins.

Dayton companies are both AI innovators and users, but some business leaders say the region’s skills gap could hamper local growth in the field.

“I don’t think (area universities) are prepared to turn out that quality of person yet that you are getting from MIT and that you are getting from Stanford and those big East and West Coast universities. So that’s one thing we need to be doing locally to prepare,” Evanhoe said.

Elkins said companies are having a difficult time finding people with the technical training to program and manage robots in the facilities using them.

“There are plenty of jobs out there for robot technicians, robot programmers and robot maintenance people,” Elkins said. “It’s incumbent on us as an industry to help get those people trained.”

Yaskawa has a training facility and works with both Sinclair Community College and UD, which Elkins said have great robot labs.

RELATED: Sinclair, Motoman partner on robotics training

Area educators, communities, businesses and other stakeholders are working across the Dayton-Cincinnati region to bridge the technology skills gap and progress has been made, said Cassie Barlow, chief operating officer at the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.

“The schools all know that if they could double and triple their output, all of those students would be employed. And they are trying to increase their capacity,” Barlow said. “Are we as a region looking at the population we need to attract if we don’t have that population here?”

She advocates doing a better job of selling the region’s attributes — low cost of living, great schools, short drives to work — to attract and keep more veterans and college graduates here.

RELATED: Burnishing Dayton’s image could bring new businesses

“We are working on building resiliency in our workforce,” said Barlow, who’s also a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board. “We have the assets to be able to re-skill, to uptrain, to create programming on a dime when we need it.”

Brookings and the McKinsey Global Institute, which in 2017 released a report on automation, argue there must be a better way of paying for continuing education and helping people whose jobs are lost to automation and AI. Both say businesses and governments should help.

The reports recommend that businesses increase their efforts to retrain workers and help them upgrade their skills, both in-house and through partnerships with educators.

RELATED: What skills are being sought by Dayton businesses

Muro suggests that state or federal governments create portable life-long learning accounts and expand the types of certificates or degree programs eligible for federal grants and loans.

“Governments can play an important role here, as the U.S. government did in previous eras with the GI Bill, which enabled just under eight million veterans returning from war to go to college or be retrained,” according to the McKinsey report. “Programs that can more quickly retool the labor force by focusing on re-training and credentialing at the level of skills demand rather than multi-year degrees could be important.”

RELATED: Meet the 66 top employers in the Dayton region. How big are they?

Artificial intelligence takes hold

Where automation becomes AI is not always an easily defined line, and the technology is still in a “relatively early stage in terms of deployment in big businesses,” said Pring of Cognizant.

But he said what is happening today is nothing short of transformational.

Artificial intelligence terms
Machine learning: Teaching computers to analyze data, find patterns, classify and predict outcomes and then improve accuracy without explicit instructions.
Deep learning: A type of machine learning based on the concept of human neural networks. It involves multiple interconnecting layers that receive and compute data and is typically used for analyzing large data sets and very complex data such as speech, images and video.
Natural language processing: The "ability to extract or generate meaning and intent from text in a readable, stylistically natural and grammatically correct form." Used with voice-based virtual assistants and chatbots.
Computer vision: The ability to use visual elements, such as words, faces, objects and activities, to "extract meaning and intent." One example of this technology is the iPhone X facial recognition technology.
Source: Deloitte Insights Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2019

“You can get caught up in the science fiction of it. You can get caught up in the semantics of it. The reality is we’re already using a lot of smart software in business and it just continues to get smarter,” Pring said.

For example, he said, eight of the country’s top 10 hedge funds are exclusively traded by software.

“There’s no human intervention whatsoever. Software is outperforming the best, smartest humans in that area,” Pring said. “Medical diagnosis, X-ray, MRIs are being read more accurately by software than the best doctors at the moment …. The underlying technology we’re talking about is going to be central to the next wave of autonomous driving.”



RELATED: ‘Smart car’ technology may make roads safer, but some fear data hacks

He said at least two companies are marketing software that can process insurance claims, which would allow an insurance company to cut hundreds of jobs.

“That is where this issue of software-based displacement (of workers) is actually becoming real,” Pring said.

Online AI-enabled chatbots assist with travel planning, Amazon and other e-commerce sites use it to match customer preferences with a sales pitch for similar items. Strawberry harvesting robots are being tested in Florida and an apple-picker in Washington state, the Washington Post reported last week.

Evanhoe and other area defense contractors are working to commercialize their products beyond military uses.

“We are doing what is called Third Wave, which is to act like a human brain. Not just machine learning and applying it, but doing what the human brain would do,” Evanhoe said. “Being able to learn, adapt. Humans are highly intuitive. Being able to get that intuition into AI.”

Those interviewed emphasized the importance of human/machine pairing.

For example, a human alone cannot process the quantity of information in massive databases used by some companies, said Eric Davis, principal scientist at Galois Inc. in Dayton.

So the machine uses AI to handle the large workload and solve routine problems, but identifies areas where human attention is needed.

“In the research I’m engaged with, we have been building systems for epidemiologists and medical practitioners to better understand the course of infectious diseases, and to help authorities identify cases of collusion, corruption, fraud and money laundering in international finance,” Davis said.

Robots can also do dangerous tasks such as bomb disposal or nuclear cleanup, Elkins said.

Motoman makes collaborative robots designed to work with humans who would, for example, put a part into the robot’s gripper but the robot would handle putting the part into a dangerous place, or handle heavy lifting for a human whose job is loading materials.

Even though his company is in the business of making robots, Elkins believes humans will always have a place in the workforce.

“Humans are the perfect super-computer,” he said. “We learn better than anything.”

Industries facing fundamental change due to artificial intelligence and automation
Health care
Call centers
Elder care
Source: James Timbie of Stanford University's Hoover Institution

MORE TO THIS STORY: See how artificial intelligence technology is being created and used at Dayton region companies

PHOTOS: Robots and grocery shopping - artificial intelligence in action 

Facebook Live - Are the robots coming for your job?

Other stories by Lynn Hulsey

Advice to avoid violence at work: Avoid the ‘perp walk’

5 things to know about those big rigs

How the next recession could affect Dayton

Elderly targeted more in scams

Two drug deaths from one family. Says mom: ‘It was like living in hell’

About the Author