There’s been quite a bit of concern recently that as robots become more capable they will squeeze into the workforce and replace our jobs.
And to a certain extent, those concerns are justified.
Robots are entering the workforce in a big way. At Canada’s Humber River Hospital, in what some are calling the first “fully digital” hospital, robots are doing everything from mixing chemotherapy drugs, delivering medical supplies, and taking radiation scans.
Humanoid robots are even being designed to assist astronauts with basic tasks aboard the International Space Station.
A massive report put together by Merril Lynch notes that 47% of U.S. jobs have the potential to be automated. Today alone there are 1.4 million industrial robots around the world, with the U.S. expecting 9-11% growth in the number of robot installations from now until 2018.
But the relationship between robots and jobs may not be as concrete as it’s portrayed. Ian Pearson, a fellow at the World Academy for Arts and Science and futurologist, told Tech Insider that having robots take over some jobs will actually grow the economy.
“We will have a lot of robots do a lot jobs people do today, but I don’t see that necessarily as a problem,” he said. “It improves the economy because you have the work people are doing and the work robots are doing, so the economy is growing.”
Essentially, Pearson argues there will always be jobs only humans can perform. By having robots step in and do certain jobs more efficiently, you have a more productive society.
“I call it the care economy,” he explained. “Leadership or caring or motivation or compassion — those are all human attributes and we have a lot of jobs requiring that today.”
Pearson added that robots could never replace teachers or those fulfilling management positions.
“What we’re doing is having a couple of decades of IT make our lives easier and make us more productive,” he added.
The Merril Lynch report also notes that as robots come in and take over jobs, jobs will be created in their wake.
According to the report, robots were directly responsible for creating 4 million to 6 million jobs through 2011. That number climbs to 8 million to 10 million jobs when counting “indirect employment creation” or jobs created as a side effect of having robots.
For example, products that couldn’t have been created without automation require people to step in and oversee them. If robots weren’t creating those products, people would be out of a job.
On that note, an additional 1.9 million to 3.5 million are expected to be created between now and 2020 as a result of robotics.
The report also supports Pearson’s theory that there will always be jobs only humans can really execute.
“As machines begin to eliminate the most menial tasks, people are left with more time to deploy creative abilities, blurring the line between mind and the machine,” the report reads.
A survey mentioned in the report found that 74% of business executives believe people are still necessary to oversee creative fields.
“While there is greater reliance on technology, they believed that people are still necessary to oversee the processes and complete higher order creative problem solving.”
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