Are Robots really a Threat to Job Security?

Android Robot/ Photo By Tatiana Shepeleva via Shutterstock

 

Ask any working individual about their biggest fear when it comes to robotics and it won’t be long before you hear, “losing my job.” The age of robotics is with us, rather has been, considering that industries which perform bulky tasks have been utilizing robotics for many decades. But today, robots are getting closer and closer to our environments. Uber has self-driving cars, Amazon has Amazon Go, a cashier free grocery store, and Las Vegas has Elvis, a room service robot who replaces depleted materials and products in the rooms of guests.

The question is no longer whether or not robots will take up human tasks, it is when and to what extent. A recent report published by the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis suggests that in the next two decades, over 60 percent of jobs in low-wage metropolitans will be automated. Is this an overestimation or a reality? How big a threat is automation, especially to the low-income class of workers? Experts have conflicting views, and the burden rests on governments and the developers of these robots to secure jobs for all humans.

Prediction Accuracy

A quick internet search will reveal hundreds of studies with differing statistics over what percentage of jobs will be automated in the years to come. Some speak of a few million jobs, while others predict that figures are in the hundreds of millions and even billions. The truth of the matter, however, is that the only fact about these reports is the uncertainty of what will happen to the workforce in the next few decades. Even the developers of robots themselves cannot say with certainty, considering the robotic takeovers witnessed have not been entirely seamless. Predictions about what effects robots will have on the workforce are not hard facts. They may not necessarily be false, but they cannot be fully relied upon when predicting the future.

Will Robots Take ALL the Work?

The current situation with job automation is that jobs that have been taken over by robots are those which have a repetitive ring to them, such as retailing and driving. The greatest motivators for the creation of working robots has been predictable job structure and human deficiencies, including limited data processing abilities and inability to physically perform some tasks and in various environments. Jobs that are of this nature are reportedly at a higher risk of automation in many industries. Humans are expected to continue dominating in industries which require creativity, collaboration, emotional reach and interpersonal skills. Machine learning has a long way to go before they can take over such jobs. There is also the possibility that with automation on the rise, new jobs will be created, and that humans may not necessarily lose their jobs and will, instead, acquire different job descriptions.

 

Robotic arm/ Photo By Max Margarit via Shutterstock

 

This is nothing New

Technological anxiety dates back to the ages of the industrial revolution, where machines were created to run tasks more efficiently than had been done before. Fast forward to the computer era in the 90s and the situation is the same. While it is true that some jobs were lost once these machines came to work, there was also the impact of job creation on a much larger proportion. Engineering professions came to life, so did computer science. Machines, even large ones, required humans to run them so they could perform tasks efficiently. Journalism and other publishing houses gained more traction as a result of the internet. Looking up ahead, it is possible that what automation will do is create more job opportunities that are yet to be figured out.

AI Remains to Be under Human Control

What many individuals seem to forget is that artificial intelligence is merely an extension of human capabilities. Machines are still very much dependent on human help to function and carry out tasks. Robots are made to mimic human behavior to date. Neural networks are far from perfection, and it may take many decades before machine learning is perfected, meaning robots will only be able to operate on the level that we program them to.

Robotics is also not a very cost friendly field. Industries spend millions every year trying to advance robotic skills and will continue to do so. The chances of wearing out are also much higher in robots than it is in human beings. Humans can work from when they are 20 to around sixty years of age, compared to machinery which is subject to wear and tear the more they are used. There are also many threats that come with automation, a major one being cyber-security attacks. Swiping of cards and scanning of QR codes is a way of collecting user information, and if this information lands in the wrong hands, it could lead to devastating effects. Humans are evidently far from being replaced by technology, for now at least.