Will Robots Take Our Jobs?

There’s no denying robots and automation are increasingly part of our daily lives. Just look around the grocery store or the highway.

The rise of robots has led to some pretty scary warnings about the future of work. Robots will be able to do everything better than us. A recent study found that between 1990 and 2007, 670,000 American jobs were lost to robots. And that number is likely to go up. An extensive study from 2013 found that about half of all jobs in the United States are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.

Occupations that require repetitive and predictable tasks in transportation, logistics, and administrative support were especially high-risk. And just think, robots don’t need health benefits, vacation, or even sleep for that matter. But the debate over whether robots will take over all of our jobs is by no means settled. Many economists argue automation will ultimately create new jobs. After all, someone has to program the robots, right?

Let’s go back to the 1850s when trains were the most popular mode of transportation. This chart shows the number of locomotive engineers, railroad conductors, and brakemen increasing by nearly 600%. that growth slowed in the early 1900s. Why? You guessed it. The automobile came along. Car mechanic and repairman jobs surged even though railroad jobs began to disappear. And some companies say the same thing will happen when robots move into the marketplace.

A survey of 20,000 employers from 42 countries found that the IT, customer service, and advanced manufacturing industries will add workers over the next two years as a result of automation. It’s hard to imagine that robots could replicate human characteristics, like empathy or compassion, that are required in many jobs. I mean, would you really want a robot as your nurse, babysitter, or teacher? But even if robots don’t take our jobs entirely, research shows they will significantly change day-to-day tasks in the workplace.

This is particularly a problem for lower-skilled workers who aren’t able to retrain for new jobs. They might get stuck with lower wages in a world with more robots, and that could make income inequality even worse. These guys are making a lot of things uncertain right now. One thing that’s clear is skills training is required if we hope to get along with friends like them in the workplace. I think we’re going to get along just fine.

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