Will Robots Take Over the Workforce? 4 Predictions From Experts
Be it through self-driving cars or automated customer service agents, robots will play a bigger role in the workplace by 2025. That could mean huge efficiency increases. But wouldn't that also mean fewer jobs for humans?
As part of an ongoing Internet Project, PewResearch canvassed experts in the technology and science fields on their thoughts. Turns out, it depends on who you ask: nearly half (48 percent) foresee a future of robot minions, which will widen the wealth gap further, while 52 percent say there is nothing to worry about. Read on for a smattering of their insights on robots, the future, and keeping mankind employed:
Robots will sharpen our edge.
Our artificially intelligent counterparts may indeed steal some jobs, but this may be a net positive. "For many classes of jobs, robots will continue to be poor labor substitutes," says JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, especially when it comes to customer service, high-level management, and creative pursuits such as writing, fashion design, and filmmaking, which require more brainpower. If anything, he adds, those creative pursuits will be more in demand, as humans have more mental space--thanks to the automation of some work--to greenlight and fund those projects. Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft, concurs: "There is no shortage of things that need to be done and that will not change."
Robots will create new industries.
And soon you may call those robots colleagues. Says Marjory Blumenthal, a science and technology policy analyst: "In a given context, automated devices like robots may displace more than they create. But they also generate new categories of work, giving rise to second- and third-order effects. Also, there is likely to be more human-robot collaboration--a change in the kind of work opportunities available." Though she didn't offer examples, various kinds of machine automation--some refined, and others more basic--come to mind.
Autonomous devices won't be so autonomous.
David Clark, senior research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, says "the larger trend to consider is the penetration of automation into service jobs. This trend will require new skills for the service industry, which may challenge some of the lower-tier workers, but in 12 years I do not think autonomous devices will be truly autonomous." Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group, agrees. Though she doesn't believe robots will displace most of the workforce, humans will still need them for menial tasks such as "packaging, assembly, sales, and outreach." (And taking restaurant orders.)
Uncle Sam will step in.
Some experts expect the economic, political, and social concerns to prevent the widespread displacement of jobs, writes Pew, and most likely, the government will step in to ensure that. Andrew Rens, chief council at Shuttleworth Foundation, tells Pew any country "that wants a competitive economy will ensure that most of its citizens are employed so that in turn they can pay for goods and services. If a country doesn't ensure employment driven demand it will become increasingly less competitive."
JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer
Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.