Embracing Robots in the Workforce

robot-1309468-sBy the year 2025, we can very well see the rise of robots in the workplace. In a research survey released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining and Internet Center, 1900 experts and respondents were asked about the impact of artificial intelligence 11 years from now. The results of the survey were split down the middle. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said that robots would destroy more jobs than they would create, and fifty-two percent said that robots would create more jobs than they kill. In other words, according to the study, there could be both huge benefits and consequences.


Because it is difficult to predict what exactly will happen in the future, the responses from the participants were widely varied. Some say that self driving cars will become the norm. We can already see progress made in that area with the Google self-driving car. Others say that the wealthy will live in isolation utilizing robots to do work for them. And yet others took a more conservative stance by saying that human intelligence is commonly underestimated, and that we will not be so easily replaced. Regardless of all these circulating circumstances, it is safe to say that with the increased use of robotics, the lives of people will greatly improve and create new opportunities that were never before possible. However, it will also cannibalize many current jobs that have been in our society for decades. We can already see many instances of this happening to jobs that can be easily automated. Despite the drawbacks, robotics should continue to be developed and implemented where it can be. There are way more positive benefits than problems to be had.


Robots will eventually take over many jobs that are done by people, although it is challenging to determine on how large a scale this will occur. Many experts predict that where will be a growing interest for self-driving cars, robot workers, smart phone assistants, and even algorithmic journalism. Others even think that robots will eventually be able to perform more complex tasks that professions that lawyers and accountants do (though that is a long way off from now). Jobs that can be automated such as these are at risks for being eliminated. Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, compares automation to Voldemort from Harry Potter. He calls it a “terrifying force that no one wants to name”. Stowe Boyd, who is a lead researcher at GigaOM Research, says that it will take away important jobs for men and women such as taxi drivers and long-haul truck driving. We can see this happening currently in the taxi industry. Uber is just one of a few new services that utilize a smart-phone application that provides an alternative to taking a taxi. Although it is not using robots in particular, it is an example of how technology is phasing out older, more traditional ways of doing things. Stowe Boyd poses the question, “What are people for in a world that does not need their labour, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?’” This question is just one of many that experts who are divided on whether or not this will do society more harm than good seek to answer. Those who believe that it will do more harm, believe that it will shrink the middle class and cause unemployment of blue-collar workers. They also think that it will increase the already growing income gap between social classes.


On the other side of the table, supporters of robotics believe that robots in the workforce will bring about more opportunities than destruction. Vint Cerf, vice president and Internet evangelist for Google, said, “Historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case. Someone has to make and service all these advanced devices.” Experts who are in full support of the development of robots are confident that human ingenuity will create new job opportunities and industries that require unique human thought process. We can see this very visibly now. For example, twitch.com is a streaming site where gamers can stream themselves playing video games. Several years ago, no one would have thought that playing a video game could provide a livable income. But now, through the use of this site and others like it players are actually making playing games into a viable career. Other benefits of utilizing robots, is that they do not have the same physical and emotional needs as humans. They can work longer hours because they do not require things like food and sleep. They can also boost productivity exponentially because they do not get tired. Using robots also cut labor costs substantially. From a business standpoint, which is to maximize revenue, it makes perfect sense to seek the implementation of robots any where it is possible. From a consumer point of a view, the benefits would be cheaper products and more time that could be spent leisurely.


Other experts say that the implementation of robots will not likely destroy current jobs, but rather increase the effectiveness of them. For example, in Korea, exoskeletons have been developed that can allow users to effortlessly lift objects of 30 kilograms. This would actually increase job opportunities since workers who want to work in the shipbuilding industry wouldn’t necessarily be physically required to lift that amount of weight. Workers will be able to do more physically demanding tasks while reducing the risk of injury. It would also allow shipbuilders to perform their tasks more quickly and increase their longevity on the job. Other experts also say that many jobs cannot be automated in the first place. The reason is because basic human qualities are very difficult to transfer into software. One anonymous respondent for the Pew survey says, “Detecting complaints is an AI problem. Sending the complaints to the correct customer service entity is an AI problem, but customer service itself is a human problem.” Even for jobs that can be automated by robots, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be. Therefore jobs may not be as threatened as some may think.


Despite the differences in responses, both sides can agree that a world where robots do 100% of the work and humans live a carefree, leisure lifestyle is all fantasy. It only exists in world where schools pump out brilliant people on a regular basis. If the education system does not change to integrate more technology, the rise of robot workers will surely increase the already growing income disparity. Therefore, the development of robots should continue as the benefits greatly outweigh the problems they will bring. Robots will not necessarily destroy as many jobs if an emphasis on technology in the education system is increased as well. Holding back progress to protect jobs that can be automated is not the answer. Robots will increase efficiency, allowing companies to focus their attention and development in other areas of business.


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