It’s being reported that a Bank of England official forecasts that in the next 10 to 20 years, smart robots will steal 80 million jobs from Americans and 15 million jobs from Britons—over half the workforce of each nation. I smell BS.
In a speech delivered yesterday by Bank economist Andy Haldane at the Trades Union Congress in London, he predicted that robots could quickly “hollow out” the middle class, shrinking the need for human-only skills, especially in clerical, production, and administrative jobs.
It’s true—I think robots will appear more in those sectors. But for every “robot overload” doom-and-gloom claim, there is a calming rebuttal of reason.
Economist Noah Smith wrote for Bloomberg this week that if machines were on the brink of total domination, we’d be seeing a robot investment boom. We’re not. He writes: “Previous technological revolutions always ended up making the mass of humanity more valuable, not less.” The Industrial Revolution didn’t make humans obsolete, it just reinvented the rules. Smith makes the same point countless roboticists do, which is that robots won’t replace us, they’ll help us and complement us.
Here’s the thing: Yes, there are many jobs whose robots could easily replace. But these jobs usually are typically (a) simple and repetitive in nature, (b) jobs that humans don’t want to do, especially if they’re dangerous, and (c) things robots can do better than humans can. We’ve written about possible jobs this could affect, like construction that can literally be back-breaking, or disaster zones that humans or rescue dogs couldn’t reach. These jobs hardly represent half the workforce of the US and UK.
Plus, humans could actually complement robots, like AI trainers at Facebook are doing with the company’s new digital assistant, M. Quartz points out that while M can make dinner reservations and oversee online purchases, a human would be nice to double-check accuracy and make sure nothing in the process went amiss. Hell, that sounds pretty easy! And I’m sure it’d pay pretty well, and you’d probably have a snazzy title, like “Automated Innovation Supervisor.”
Anyway, my point is, the future will likely not be some dystopian breadline with chrome bigwigs taking over our executive suites, smoking cigars and mocking us with preprogrammed insults with Siri-like cadence. Robots will be entering more workplaces, but not to give us the pink slip—it’ll be to make our nine-to-fives easier and less soul-sucking. [Bank of England via CNN Money, Bloomberg, and Quartz]
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