The world of work is undergoing radical and unprecedented change and most of it is attributed to computer based technologies in the work place- most recently AI and robots. Automation, driven by technological advancement has been increasing in the recent past and this article is meant to assess the impact of the same on jobs, employment trends and human activity.

The fundamental question of whether robots can replace humans misses a crucial point; robots should not pretend to be human at all. They should help people solve human problems without assuming a sentient role in the society.

Is the idea paradoxical?

Technology is dynamic and it becomes hard to argue if robots will take over the existing work force. Some researchers have identified a bit of paradox buried in the idea of having a job less future because of robots and the following factors highlight this;

  • People do not take into account the various ways in which new technologies increase the amount of work available.
  • Robots may substitute for some types of labor (hard and repetitive tasks), but are generally complementary for other types of labor. Most cobots being manufactured nowadays appear to be complementary to workers who perform non-routine and cognitive-intense work.
  • How the work force that is displaced by robots adopts to take advantages of the available opportunities is not put under consideration.
  • Advancement in technology is expected to fuel a wave of productivity improvements which grow the economy. The robots will create a new line of products which will require additional labor hence absorbing the displaced workers.
  • Robots can’t compete against humans stuck in today’s human capital production function. As robots get better in everything they also sharpen human intelligence. The notion of a jobless future does not factor in the fact that the super smart machine will enable humans achieve maximum potential.

Is there a cause to be alarmed?

Robotics and machines have improved productivity and uplifted many economies while AI is revolutionizing health and transport sector. Yet amid all these benefits, there is a widespread fear that there will be a robotic takeover in the near future. The belief in this idea has led to;

  • People opposing the adoption of new computer technologies like robots. They are therefore not able to truly enjoy the increasingly personalized benefits that robots can offer.
  • Demonizing and aggrandizing technological advancement in an attempt to impede its growth. This however curtails on actual innovation and technical progress.

How do we prepare?

One thing is definite from where I stand; change is coming and it always tends to be disruptive. McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, reported in 2017 that in 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of activities could be automated by 2030. The change that the robotic revolution requires is that humans should adapt fast enough to the displacement by machines. This can be achieved by;

  1. Acquiring the requisite skills needed to work in cognitive-intense jobs alongside cobots at the workplace.
  2. The manufacturing company should realize that their ultimate responsibility to the society is to make robots that significantly improve their lives and not to make human-like robots. Engineers and developers should ensure that the robots they create have the ability to learn, discern bias and avoid making mistakes before replacing traditionally human-held positions in the workforce.
  3. Finding work in industries that are known to have work that machines and robots can’t do. This will necessitate more generalized education that allows for workers to be trained in short order for different tasks in a highly automated labor market.

Let us not under estimate the importance of the debate about the possibility of a robotic take over and its impact on the world as we know it. Modern civilization needs employment- not simply to sustain our livelihoods, but for our own emotional wellbeing. We should therefore develop strategies to meet the future with resilience.