Culture 4 min read

Will Automation and Robots Render Humans Jobless?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

There’s a big fear that automation is coming to take over our lives, including our jobs. In the end, we’ll all end up with nothing to do — jobless, broke, and unhappy.

Well, that’s not true – at least not entirely.

Yes, artificial intelligence will displace many jobs in the coming years. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the U.K., about 1.5 million people in England are at risk of losing their jobs to automation.

The story is the same in the United States. A Washington-based think tank, Brookings Institution, reported that 25 percent of American jobs are at a high risk of being automated.

In a recent NPR post, the writer explored how fire lookouts at the forest service are “increasingly being replaced by satellites, remote cameras, also drones.

Thanks to these forecasts and media posts, there’s a growing fear of mass unemployment. However, the situation is not as dire as they want you to believe.

In other words, the concern of losing jobs to AI and other forms of automation may be unwarranted.

Fear of Automation Rendering Workers Jobless

The fear of technology rendering humans jobless is nothing new.

In 1589, an English clergyman, William Lee, invented a stocking frame knitting machine. But, Queen Elizabeth I was concerned about the job security of the kingdom’s hand knitters so, she denied Lee a patent.

The queen famously said:

“Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.”

Similar fears of new technology persisted into the industrial revolution.

When personal computers first arrived in the 1980s, there was a widespread belief that the machines would cause mass unemployment. The same fear surfaced with the advent of the Internet, and advances in information technology.

While the industrial revolution was a turbulent transition for those who lived through it, it’s now considered a positive development today.

Technology-enabled automation rendered some workers jobless and augmented others at the same time.

Then, the displaced workers transitioned into new jobs, some of which were created by automation. The government also aided this transition by investing in training and education.

The result was increased productivity and income. The average work hours in the United States also dropped by 50 percent since the early 1990s.

Besides, prices became lower, which created a higher demand for goods and services, consequently leading to more jobs and broader economic growth.

Rather than take our jobs, computers made our lives easier. This raises an essential question:

Is it Going to Be the Same Story With AI?

Based on the current projections, AI-enabled automation will not take more jobs in the future any more than automation has in the past. For example, U.S. workers in agriculture dropped from 40 percent in 1900 to the current 2 percent.

Here’s why talks of losing jobs to machines are exaggerated.

As impressive as recent AI advancements are, it’s still very narrow. As a result, human input and supervision are still necessary to ensure optimum performance.

But, what about the estimates from loads of studies?

Well, these studies suggest just how many jobs can be theoretically automated, not how many jobs will be lost to automation. In other words, while AI-powered tools will replace some tasks of jobs, it could augment many workers at the same time and not make them totally jobless.

Moreover, adopting new technology is much slower than developing them. Along with the cost of implementation and maintenance, we have to also overcome regulatory and cultural hurdles.

Considering the recent AI advancement in a broader, historical context, it reveals that the fear of mass unemployment has been around for decades. But like other previous “new” technologies, AI will only improve our quality of life in the long run.

Read More: How Automation Will Double the Number of Jobs it Destroys

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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