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Will Robots Steal All Of Our Jobs?

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Published

29 Feb 2016

Duration

10 minute read

It depends who you talk to...

Of course in some sectors robots have already taken over a huge swathe of jobs. The debate about whether machines will eliminate the need for work done by humans hasn’t been academic for a long time. Robots have completely transformed the industrial sector over the last 40 years. They’ve raised productivity, but have cut employment. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that robots are just going to get smarter and more capable as time goes on. Or that as they grow in sophistication, they are going to inevitably take more jobs out of the hands of humans and place them in the metallic arms of machines. But, will that be such a bad thing?

Reality Check

Here’s the thing.

It’s probably not going to be the robots themselves that are going to constitute the issue; it’s the Artificial Intelligence that runs them. The presence of advanced AI in machines is in all probability soon going to beget the world robots that are capable of doing pretty much anything and everything humans do.

As the field of robotics advances, it’s going to have an ever-larger effect on workforces globally. Indeed, we may be looking at a second wave true blue disruptive technology in the making. But instead of asking whether robots are going to replace us as employees, it might be better to consider the benefits, and ask just what jobs do we want humans to do instead.

Some Facts

Here’s a statistic for you: By the end of 2017, it’s estimated that there’s going to be more than 2 million robots operating in an industrial capacity globally.

Here’s another one: By 2025, the next generation of robots will probably be doing the equivalent work of 40 – 75 million workers. (That’s just 10 years away, you know.)

Some Made Up Stuff

Science fiction movies like the Matrix and Terminator give us stories about computers and machines that suddenly become self-aware and then immediately set about trying to kill all humanity.

The truth is that isn’t likely to happen any time soon, if ever.  While admittedly, fears about the future have led to questions from scientists calling for the creation of ethical frameworks surrounding the advance of AI and its utilisation, and also the adoption of safeguards for security purposes. The real worry isn’t so much about some sort of AI omnipresent evil dastardly Skynet like apparatus, but rather the programming installed into AI robots and the motivation behind that code. Militarising robots ala Robocop will in reality only going to come to pass if the code behind the AI has bad, misguided, or wilful intent behind the creation of said machines.

Robots Took Our Jobs. Can We Just Chill, Then?

That said, the science of robotics will continue to affect us all and in ever increasing circles. But the notion that robots in themselves are going to steal everybody’s jobs is somewhat farfetched, at least in the medium term, or most of our lifetimes. This brings us back to the question of what would we as a species prefer to be doing. Because while robots are almost certain take millions of jobs away over the coming decades, it’s is far more likely that the big thing they’ll be doing is primarily eliminating the dullest and most dangerous jobs going.

In fact, I for one firmly believe that the future careers of humanity as a whole, isn’t going to be anywhere as dark and dismal as many speculators would have you believe.   In fact, as with most innovation, the development of work orientated robots will probably light a spark that leads to new job creation, and the development of completely new job categories. 

Downer

The resulting advancement of machines will inevitably displace millions of workers at the same time. But then so has almost all major technological achievement since before the Stone Age. So despite my own sense of optimism concerning the future of robots and AI in the workplace, I can understand why the people in the  jobs and industries most at risk of being replaced, and whose livelihoods and families depend upon them working, might not share in that optimism.  But the concern over worker displacement due to technological unemployment is not some sort of recent phenomenon.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, the phrase “Disruptive Technology” may only have been coined a few years ago, but it’s been around since the dawn of humankind. History has proven that the process of creative innovation, often leads to the process of creative destruction, and often has myriad undesired effects. But history has also taught us that technological innovation doesn’t just displace workers, it also creates wealth.  AI and robots look set to follow this pattern in the decades ahead.

New Life, New Frontiers

Think for a moment if you will about all the jobs and business sectors that either didn’t exist 30 years ago, or were exponentially smaller than they are today. The need for coders to design software, apps, games, and kettles that talk to you has never been bigger. Investment in the field of AI alone was higher in 2015 than at any time in the last 50 years. The number of jobs in this area alone has also increased significantly. The question is whether the number of employees lost to advances in AI will be outweighed by the new opportunities that arise.

It’s The Economy, Stupid

And yet curiously, the main factor involved with the continuous addition of robotic means into the workplace isn’t the brilliance of the Technological advances. It’s the fact that research and deployment costs are falling at around 10% year on year, and are anticipated to fall at a rate faster as time rolls on. So Robots are inevitably going to take on more and more manual tasks, mostly in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction as the price of utilising them continues to fall, and the costs involved are no longer a barrier to entry.

Final Thoughts: Don’t Panic, Yet

But at the risk of getting all philosophical and whimsical about the whole thing, more robots will overall, most likely be a good thing.  In essence, robots will just become an everyday normal tool. They are the next step, just as at one time, engines replaced sails on boats, turbines replaced propellers on planes, and the humble hammer replaced the rock.

AI and robots will change the workplace but it doesn’t look like it’s going to somehow be to the detriment or the cost, of the human race. Without doubt, the next generation of robots and AI will be more powerful and more capable than ever before.

So, are robots going to steal all of our jobs in the future? There are plenty of arguments on both sides of the debate, and to be honest, as mundane as it sounds, the best answer right now is, probably not. But, what robots might just do, is change the rules of the game.

 


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