August 12, 2014
Experts Divided On What Impact Robots And AI Will Have On Human Employment
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Nearly half of all industry experts believe that robots and artificial intelligence will displace a significant number of both blue-collar and white-collar workers by 2025, and many of them are concerned that this phenomenon will result in vast increases in income inequality and a large percentage of humans who are all but unemployable.Forty-eight percent of the nearly 1,900 research scientists, business leaders, academic researchers and other technology experts polled by the Pew Research Internet Project predicted that this dire future will soon become a reality.
The other 52 percent of responders do not believe that technology such as self-driving automobiles and intelligent digital agents will displace more jobs than it creates within the next 11 years. This group, Pew explained, believes that the jobs currently performed by humans will be assumed by robots or AI applications, but that the ingenuity of men and women will develop new industries and find new ways to make a living.
“These two groups also share certain hopes and concerns about the impact of technology on employment,” Pew’s Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson said. “For instance, many are concerned that our existing social structures – and especially our educational institutions – are not adequately preparing people for the skills that will be needed in the job market of the future.”
“Conversely, others have hope that the coming changes will be an opportunity to reassess our society’s relationship to employment itself – by returning to a focus on small-scale or artisanal modes of production, or by giving people more time to spend on leisure, self-improvement, or time with loved ones,” they added.
The Pew report highlights several reasons to be uneasy about the future of employment and the impact that evolving technology will have on it. To date, automation has only impacted blue-collar employment, but they caution the next-generation of innovation will likely eliminate white-collar positions as well.
While some highly-skilled workers will thrive in this environment, others will be forced into lower-paying positions or long-term unemployment, they noted. There is also concern the US educational system is not adequately preparing the work force of the future, and that our political and economic institutions are not equipped to handle the difficult choices that emerging robotics and AI technology will present.
On the other hand, there are some reasons to be hopeful as well. While technological advances are likely to displace some workers, they have historically been net creators of jobs, and the resilience of mankind will lead them to develop new types of work that require uniquely human capabilities. New technology will also give us more free time and allow us to have a more positive, socially beneficial relationship with work.
“Technology will continue to disrupt jobs, but more jobs seem likely to be created,” said Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft. “When the world population was a few hundred million people there were hundreds of millions of jobs. Although there have always been unemployed people, when we reached a few billion people there were billions of jobs. There is no shortage of things that need to be done and that will not change.”
“In a given context, automated devices like robots may displace more than they create,” added science and technology policy analyst Marjory Blumenthal. “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.”
Of course, none of these predictions could come to fruition at all, noted Jess Zimmerman of The Guardian. After all, she explained, experts have been making bold predictions about what impact technology would have on the human race since Isaac Asimov predicted five decades ago that the 2014 World’s Fair would feature hovering cars, moving sidewalks, robot housekeepers, fusion power plants and compressed air transit tubes.
“People like Asimov, people whose vision of the future is based on steady progress along the lines of existing technology, have had every reason to believe they would be right – and often have been wildly wrong,” she said. “We have no idea what we’re doing. We certainly have no idea what we’re going to do.”
“The future is desperately opaque, and there’s no better illustration than that Pew Research’s future-predicting experts can’t agree,” Zimmerman added. “The more we are clouded by human foibles and biases, the less obvious our future becomes. Asimov’s robot housemaids and flying cars are classic visions of the future less because they have plausible roots in existing technology, and more because they address the problems and needs and desires of middle-class dominant-culture Westerners.”