As technology advances, humans are becoming more likely to use and interact with robots in their daily lives, as evidenced by Apple’s Siri or Pepper, the recently developed robot with the ability to understand and respond to human emotions.
Though there is no way to be certain of the societal impact that increased automation in the workforce will cause, the introduction of robots into the daily lives of humans will bring with it both benefits and consequences.
For those in the workforce, especially unskilled workers who may not be able to adapt to skilled positions, the ubiquity of robots may be daunting.
Perhaps the heaviest consequence of businesses using robots to fulfill tasks traditionally fulfilled by humans is that jobs for humans may diminish at a faster rate than jobs are created.
Rise of the Robots
In his book, Rise of the Robots: Technology and The Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford speculates that robots could replace 50-75 percent of the workforce by the end of the century. This transition is already happening and is likely to take place rapidly. Peter Sondergaard, research director at Gartner Inc., a technology research and advisory firm, has suggested that “one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025.” As jobs become increasingly automated, workers in positions that robots could fill more efficiently and more inexpensively will be pushed out of the workforce.
The notion that technology will replace large segments of the workforce is not new to society. A social symptom of the Industrial Revolution was an increased anxiety about the potential of machines to replace workers in manufacturing. To some extent, this fear was warranted, but as technology developed, so did more jobs. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, a large portion of the workforce transitioned from physically intensive work to more mentally intensive work. The machines and push for innovation that resulted from the Industrial Revolution freed up society to create safer, more productive and more rewarding jobs.
What some speculate will be different about the current machine age is that robots could become skilled and efficient enough to operate in every industry with very little assistance from humans. When there is no need to employ the majority of people, the middle class will struggle to reap the benefits that increased technology will provide, and the gap between the rich and the middle class will widen dramatically.
Job Evolution and Opportunity
We need to change our perceptions about work. The jobs we are accustomed to will likely become automated in a matter of decades. This will present opportunities for large numbers of people who previously occupied jobs replaced by robots to address more pressing issues, such as poverty, mass incarceration and education.
For example, a taxi cab driver who is replaced by a self-driving taxi in the coming years may have the skills, passion and time necessary to advocate for planet-friendly travel options.
For some, the solution to the elimination of jobs by automation will be to become entrepreneurs. The elimination of old jobs will incentivize individuals to create jobs for themselves that align with their own interests and abilities. This will lead to increased innovation and engagement in the workforce.
Robots will never be able to replace humans in positions that require creativity or the development of personal relationships. Society should take a cue from the workers impacted by the Industrial Revolution and actively seek jobs that capitalize on human potential rather than automation.
In addition, the focus of education should shift toward developing skills that robots cannot replace. The use of robots to fulfill mundane tasks will free up the majority of society to transition to jobs that will allow them to achieve their full potential.
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