Are Robots Going to Steal Our Jobs?

Harry Coulter | 08 Nov 2017

Robots replacing people in the workplaceAs Artificial Intelligence, or AI, continues to evolve at a very rapid rate a lot of people are twitchy about what this means for the human workforce. Some experts who were not very concerned to begin with, have changed their position and have growing concerns about the machines taking over.

While automation, which is best described as machines taking over jobs in predictable environments with predictable tasks, has historically been where the greatest loss of workers’ jobs is seen, these days it would seem that no sector is safe. Robots have proven better than human doctors at detecting tumours on MRI scans, and certain journalistic reporting jobs have been taken over by machines too.

Robots are also getting smarter, and the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research Unit had to shut down a pair of robots when they evolved their own language that human beings were unable to decipher. An official statement from the social media giant says that the chatbots mark an important step in creating machines that can “reason, converse and negotiate” and that these are important steps for virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.

Having a truly intelligent virtual assistant, capable of original thought, would be hugely convenient as many of today’s AI and other technological developments are. Being able to play at online casinos with sophisticated software rather than having to travel to a land-based establishment is just one example of this.

At this point the question really seems to be what the impact of the obvious profound technological shift will be, and how the human race will manage it. Will we be able to live happily alongside our robotic companions, and what will such an existence look like, or will we descend into a depressing dystopia?

On Par with the Industrial Revolution

Management consultant firm McKinsey released a report that suggested that 51% of the current jobs in America could be fully automated, and the recent replacement of cafeteria workers with self-serve machines at an Upstate New York community college suggests that this is so. A study by the International Labour Forum found that approximately 56% of the total workforce in Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam is at risk of being displaced by robots, and several other studies corroborate the idea that the automation trend will affect every country on the world.

A lot of experts, in various fields, are calling the current technological shift the biggest one since the Industrial Revolution when machines replaced a huge part of the workforce. To counter the doomsday prophets who are predicting that we will be made redundant by machines, many other insiders say less than 5% of jobs could be fully taken over by robots.

Those who have a positive view of the future point out that removing the rote work from jobs could free people up to be far more creative and impactful, such as teachers not having to devote so much time and energy to marking. Many other examples bolster the idea that humans will adapt and find new work, rather than be replaced by machines.

Finding a Balanced Way Forward

In the fields where automation will feature very strongly, it will take some time for full adoption of new machines and there are several factors that will complicate the process. It will be very expensive to do this, and in jobs where human interaction plays a pivotal role, such as nursing or counselling, the consumer response may not be positive to start with.

One of the ways that society is responding to the shift in work and technology is to hold high-profile meetings and to roll out guaranteed income and public service job creation initiatives. However, it’s important to remember that even in industries that are ripe for automation the transition will be a process, and we’ll have time to find other avenues of work.

Finding new jobs like data mining, investigating social programmes for dealing with automation and looking at what work actually means to us as a species are all important aspects of our response to the technological revolution that we find ourselves in. Rather than panicking, we need to explore the brave new world and all the possibilities in it, and accept that robots form part of the future too.


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