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Are We Going to Lose Our Jobs to Robots? Experts Divided

It’s been in the news cycle a lot lately. It sits in the back of anyone’s mind who wonders deeply enough about the future… how will man and technology, in this case robots, coexist in the future?

It’s a fair question, and apparently not one with a simple answer.

Of course “future” sounds very distant, like something we don’t really need to fret over right now. But in reality, robots are already working and replacing a variety of different positions typically held by humans.

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Manufacturing has been using them for years, and now they’re infiltrating the service sector, too. Technology is nothing new to the service sector, for example, in Japan you have popular restaurant chains that use vending machines instead of cashiers, and in the United States you have self-checkout lines at the local 24/7 drugstores, so it’s not like we haven’t been eased into human-less services over the years.

But technology has been mostly faceless thus far so it feels less like something to feel threatened by, especially where jobs are concerned—the automatic door, the CCTV camera, the driverless train all highly advanced but faceless nonetheless so no one seems to care that much. But place a humanoid on that door, put one in a police uniform on the street corner, maybe one operating your train and things turn from convenient to threatening—and our tendencies to fear rather than to embrace take over.

But could that fear be justified?

Experts seem to be split on the idea. In a canvassing done by The Pew Research Center, experts believe that robotics and artificial intelligence will invade vast areas of our daily lives by the year 2025. PRC called it a “canvassing” because it was not a randomized survey, but done on an invitation basis inviting specific experts within the technology field or those who have made insightful predictions about tech in the past.

Although they largely agreed on where robotics and AI were both going, they were split down the middle on the positive and negative socioeconomic factors both of these technologies would have on our world.

1,896 experts who were canvassed responded, and almost half (48%) of these experts believe significant numbers of blue and white-collar workers will be displaced which will lead to a breakdown of social order. The other half (52%) of experts who responded believe that these technologies will not displace more jobs than they create, and they have faith human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to earn a living. Interestingly though, the glass-half-full side agrees that many jobs currently performed by humans will be substantially taken over by robots or “digital agents” by 2025.

Albeit both groups were divided on the outcomes, they both shared similar concerns about existing social structures like our educational institutions—chiefly that schools weren’t preparing kids with the skills necessary for such a potential job market to grow and blossom.

Reading the PRC’s report leaves you with the feeling that ultimately, for bad or good, many jobs are about to change and/or die off. Will it break down society? Will it create new jobs? Will it turn us all into those chubby people floating around in their futuristic La-Z-Boy recliners like in the Disney animation WALL-E?

Apparently, all this 21st century technology hasn’t created a crystal ball with 100% accuracy, yet….

One thing is for sure though, a life where humans and robots work, live, and play together is rapidly moving towards us, and much needed comprehensive dialog is necessary to avoid the worst case and to embrace the best case.

  • Fong

    The leaders in the US who are pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants certainly don’t seem to care about the future. Technology and low-skilled workers are at extreme odds. Countries with the most unskilled labor will lose, and lose big. Japan’s like a basket case now, but demographically they are more prepared than anyone else to support robotic technology.

  • Anna

    Some optimists think we will not have to work, that robots will lead us towards some sort of jobless “utopia.” To me, this is childish thinking. People in Okinawa live long lives because they work, not because they lay around the house watching television. People who work, who have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, aren’t depressed, or suicidal.