According to a recent survey, three quarters of Brits believe that their jobs are at risk because of robots potentially taking over their positions in the workplace, and we must admit it’s easy to see why when software is perfecting the art of many day-to-day human tasks.
The Digital Revolution
Much of the world’s current robotic workforce come in the form of huge machines in factories, doing heavy work like lifting and moving cars or doing simple repetitive tasks. That’s what robots are good at, and is historically the main reason robots have taken over human tasks. However Brynjolfsson an economist and author of the book ‘The Second Machine Age’ believes the digital revolution is very different to the industrial revolution, although it may move a lot faster. In his book, Brynjolfsson uses the example of the photograph to demonstrate how things move on. The hundreds of people who used to be involved in the production of chemical photos, are now mainly redundant as photographs became digital and now live online on Flickr, Facebook and Instagram. However these social platforms have grown to create many more jobs and a good few millionaires. Particularly in IT and media there are many new job titles that just didn’t exist in the 80s or 90s.
A Lack of Flexibility
Robots are often very task orientated, and may be very good at completing the task they’re assigned to, but allow for no flexibility. For example a robot that knows how to pick up a pen, may not be able to pick up a piece of paper.
Jobs such as accountants and telemarketers may be the type of jobs most at risk, along with service roles in general. We have already seen the loss of many checkout operatives in UK supermarkets to machines, and a hotel opening soon in Japan will be staffed by (scarily lifelike) robots who will check guests in and take their luggage!
However, put a robot in an unfamiliar situation and it won’t know what to do. Famously clumsy, robots can make mistakes and don’t really have the ability to adjust. In many cases it may just be easier and quicker to ask a human to do the task.
Interaction and Creativity
Interaction and creativity are two very human aspects that many (if not most) jobs require. For example a robot may be able the take the job of a financial journalist reporting numbers and statistics, but not that of a creative novel writer.
Interacting with real-world environments and unpredictable situations is difficult and usually impossible for bots. These interpersonal skills such as motivating, nurturing, caring and comforting are vital in a workplace.
A recent paper by Georg Graetz and Guy Michaels of the London School of Economics found that, despite the lack of much previous research into the impact of robots in the workplace, robots have actually been a driver of labour productivity and economic growth.
Seeing these advancements in technology as a tool to help aid workers and allow them to achieve more could be the way forward. If humans and robots can cooperate in the workplace, rather than compete, productivity could be greatly improved.