Over the next 10 years, an intelligent robot might steal your job right out from under you -- then again it might not. That’s according to a new study from the Pew Research Center that examines the effect innovations in robotics and AI (artificial intelligence) will have on the future of work. While the results of the Pew research are fairly inclusive, the study includes some interesting points.
To begin, about half (48 percent) of the roughly 1,900 experts surveyed say they see a future in which robots will displace many blue- and white-collar workers. This displacement could lead to "significant income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order."
The other half of the respondents (52 percent) predict that robot technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by the year 2025. Although this group anticipates that robots will, in fact, take over many jobs by then, they also have faith that humans are resourceful enough to create new jobs, new industries, and new ways to make a living -- the same way they’ve been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Better Preparation Needed
The two groups share certain “hopes and concerns” about the impact technology will have on employment. For one thing, the experts don’t think our educational system is adequately preparing students for the skills that will be needed in the job market of the future.
Conversely, the experts also say people will adapt to these technological changes by inventing entirely new types of work, and by taking advantage of uniquely human capabilities.
“Technology will free us from day-to-day drudgery, and allow us to define our relationship with ‘work’ in a more positive and socially beneficial way,” the report predicts.
The Pew report also offered specific feedback from some experts who think that artificial intelligence and robotics will have a positive impact on jobs by 2025.
JP Rangaswami, Salesforce.com’s chief scientist, offers some reasons why he does not believe that automation will be a "net displacer" of jobs in the next decade.
“Some classes of jobs will be handed over to the ‘immigrants’ of AI and robotics, but more will have been generated in creative and curating activities as demand for their services grows exponentially, while barriers to entry continue to fall,” he said. “For many classes of jobs, robots will continue to be poor labor substitutes.”
Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who currently serves as a vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, agrees with Rangaswami. “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,” he said.
Other respondents, however, say that the displacement of workers from automation is already happening -- and it is about to get much worse.
For instance, Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition, said, “Automation is Voldemort: the terrifying force nobody is willing to name," referring to the fictional character from the Harry Potter series.
"Oh sure, we talk about it now and then, but usually in passing," Michalski said. "We hardly dwell on the fact that someone trying to pick a career path that is not likely to be automated will have a very hard time making that choice.”
Michalski’s opinion is that that the race between automation and human work will be won by automation.
Mark Nall, a program manager for NASA, noted, “Unlike previous disruptions such as when farming machinery displaced farm workers but created factory jobs making the machines, robotics and AI are different. Due to their versatility and growing capabilities, not just a few economic sectors will be affected, but whole swaths will be.”
Future Will Be OK
Even though many experts take it for granted that the majority of tomorrow’s jobs will be held by robots, they still have hope that this will inspire us as a society to completely redefine our notions of work and employment. They believe that humans and robots can co-exist in the years ahead and that ultimately, "we, as a society, control our own destiny through the choices we make."
Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, host of the AOL series "The Future Starts Here," and founder of The Webby Awards, said, “Robots that collaborate with humans over the cloud will be in full realization by 2025. Robots will assist humans in tasks thus allowing humans to use their intelligence in new ways, freeing us up from menial tasks.”