It’s a common dystopian sci-fi trope: the robots get better at various tasks, the humans become useless, and suddenly the world’s population is unemployed (or dead) as the robots take our jobs and everything is terrible.
But this simply won’t happen, according to several robotics wonks and investors.
Colin Lewis of RobotEnomics says there are simply more jobs available in companies that make use of robots, not fewer: “Our research shows 76 companies that implemented industrial or factory/warehouse robots actually increased the number of employees by 294,000 over the last 3 years.”
Most notable among these 76 companies are retail giant Amazon and electric car manufacturer Tesla. Amazon acquired Kiva Robotics Systems in 2012 and has plans to aggressively deploy some 10,000 autonomous robots to fill customer orders by the end of 2014. Amazon has added 89,000 new staff members since 2011.
Tesla’s numerous robots help facilitate the construction of its electric cars, completing the assembly of one car part an average of every six seconds. But Tesla has also added 6,000 human jobs. (A video tour of the company’s robot-aided manufacturing facility is at the bottom of this post.)
Investor Marc Andreessen echoes this in an op-ed in the Financial Times titled “Robots Will Not Eat The Jobs But Will Unleash Our Creativity.” He says “to argue that huge numbers of people will be put out of work but we will find nothing for them — for us — to do is to short human creativity dramatically. And I am long on human creativity.”
Robots are already at work in mines and oil fields doing work that used to be carried out by humans, so robotics has inherently already had an effect on the job market. But Lewis says this is only change, not replacement:
Research by Lawrence Katz Professor of Economics at Harvard also shows the ‘hollowing out’ of middle skilled jobs due to technological advances. A recent paper by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University concludes that 47% of US jobs are at high risk from automation. It’s not all doom and gloom for those with ‘middle skills’ and the MIT and Harvard researchers do allude to an increase in jobs and income for the ‘new artisans,’ a term coined by Professor Katz to refer to those who ‘virtuously combine technical and interpersonal tasks.’ Expanding upon this, Professor Autor expects that “a significant stratum of middle skill, non-college jobs combining specific vocational skills with foundational middle skills — literacy, numeracy, adaptability, problem-solving and common sense — will persist in coming decades.
If you’ve got those basic skills, a robot will only make your job easier.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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