Sat | Jul 4, 2020

A looming job fear: The rise of robots

Published:Saturday | March 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM


In an oddly positive view of a potentially dystopian future, almost two-thirds of Americans think within 50 years robots and computers will have taken over most work, but few think their own jobs are at risk.

A survey by The Pew Research Center found that 65 per cent of American adults expect that by 2066, robots and computers will "definitely" or "probably" do much of the work currently done by humans.

And yet, even more expect that their own jobs will continue to exist unchanged.

Eighty percent said they expect their job will continue to exist in its current form during that time.

Only six per cent said they expected their job would definitely not exist, the survey found.

While looming robot-enabled layoffs worry about 11 per cent of workers, other concerns are much higher in their thoughts.

- 26 per cent fret they could lose their jobs because their company is poorly managed.

- 22 per cent say their shrinking industry could cause them to lose their jobs.

- 20 per cent lie in bed at night fearing their boss can find someone else who will do their jobs for less pay.

- 13 per cent fear they won't be able to keep up with the technical skills they need to stay competitive in their position.

Robots and their future impact on humans was the hot topic at the SXSW Interactive festival. Attendees at last year's event witnessed an 'anti-robot' protest. Roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, one featured speaker this year, talked about very human-like robots, or androids.

As to job fears, better-educated and wealthier Americans are less concerned about losing out in the labour market to a robot or a computer. For people with college degrees, 37 per cent say losing their jobs to a mechanical or computerised entity is unlikely.

Among those who have a household income of $75,000 or more, only 38 per cent worry about non-human competition for their livelihood.

Jobs like the one that produced this article aren't immune. A company called Automated Insights in North Carolina sells software that replaces journalists by taking raw sports scores and turning them into sports stories or figures from a company's quarterly financial report to turn out an earnings story, no reporter required.

The Americans who least fear the rise of digital workers are those who labour in government, education or at a non-profit. Just seven per cent of them think robots and computers will definitely take over most human employment in 50 years.

Should workers be more worried? Not according to Neil Kinson of Redwood Software, a company that builds software to run robots.

The view isn't surprising given Redwood's business. But Kinson makes that point that taking manual tasks away from error-prone humans could help bring jobs back onshore to the United States.