It has been estimated that by 2025 one third of all jobs in the world will be lost to robotics and AI, resulting in serious repercussions for labour markets, and consequently society. The media often portrays the use of these technologies as the beginning of a life of unemployment and poverty for most of us. With attention-grabbing headlines such as ‘Robot takeovers’, ‘Is your job Robot Proof?’ and – my personal favourite – ‘I, robot. You, unemployed’, it is not hard to understand why popular opinion sees robotics and AI as the demise of humanity rather than as a means to a more fulfilling life.
Whilst it is true that machines are continuously able to do more, and are already displacing jobs around the world, is this not part of any disruptive technology and the natural trajectory for a country’s growth? There have been a lot of parallels drawn between the growth of robotics and AI and the industrialisation that took place in the early 19th century. But techno pessimists take heed, if history has taught us anything, then the rise of machine learning can only be beneficial.
The OECD, Pew Research Centre, World Economic Forum and other notable research institutes, have written extensively about the impact of technology on work. This blog series will focus on the biggest issues facing robotics and AI with regards to labour. It will pull out the key points to consider, such as the effects on unemployment rates and income inequality. It will discuss the way robotics and AI is changing the relationships between countries and will show how the Netherlands has successfully utilised this technology. Finally, it will conclude with a recommendation of policies to put in place to ensure we are on the right side of this game changing technology.
Definitions are useful at this point; the distinction between robots and AI can be perplexing. Often robots are misconstrued as being the same as automation – ‘a mechanical device operated electronically, that functions automatically, without continuous human guidance’, but this is slightly misleading. Yes, the critical factor of a robot is autonomy, but it is also programmed to sense, think and adapt, whereas an automated machine is programmed to only follow one set of instructions. Similarly, if an object blocks or stops a robot it will react to this outside stimulus – an automated machine will not.
Robots are by no means ‘new’. They have been used in the manufacturing industry since the 1950s but are now encroaching on other sectors such as office and administrative roles, construction and even sales. They are currently causing extensive industry upheavals.
Yet AI is what we should really be concerned about. AI is the programming of software to imitate true intelligence with the ability to learn – essentially it could run in a robot. ‘Narrow AI’ might be a more accurate description as it is only able to perform ‘narrow’ tasks – driving a car, facial recognition, playing chess. But ‘General AI’, the goal of many researchers, would surpass humans at nearly every cognitive function. This goal is predicted to become a reality in the next 30 years.
The next blog will be looking in more detail at the effects of robots and AI on unemployment. As a society are we on the cusp or a new era – one of leisure and intelligent time filling? Or will the rise of this technology have an adverse effect on unemployment and income inequality? Game changer or game ender?
Anon, (2016). Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_FOJ_Executive_Summary_Jobs.pdf
Dictionary.com. (2016). the definition of automation. Available at: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/automation
Elkins, K. (2016). Experts predict robots will take over 30% of our jobs by 2025 — and white-collar jobs aren’t immune. Business Insider. Available at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/experts-predict-that-one-third-of-jobs-will-be-replaced-by-robots-2015-5
wiseGEEK. (2016). What Are the Differences between Automation and Robotics?. Available at: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-differences-between-automation-and-robotics.htm