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article imageTechnologists calculate how many jobs will be lost to robots

By Tim Sandle     May 1, 2017 in Science
It’s an open ended question, but how many jobs, currently carried out by humans, will be lost to robots and other innovations with technology? According to Carnegie Mellon University policymakers will only know if big data analytics are improved.
Developments in technology have affected the world of work since the industrial revolution in the Victorian era. Urbanization led to a population shift from the countryside to the city; the factories heralded mass production of consumer goods. This led to a change in the nature of work.
Expectations that jobs would be lost to technology proved prescient, to the degree that the many types of tasks have altered. This didn’t necessarily lead to a loss of work, as the folk singer Ewan MaCcoll predicted during the 1950s (the song My Old Man), reflecting the suspicions of those engaging in manual work in the face of the rise of the computer:
Two pieces of ENIAC currently on display in the Moore School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Two pieces of ENIAC currently on display in the Moore School of Engineering and Applied Science.
TexasDex
Watch out for the man with the silicon chip,
Hold on to your job with a good firm grip,,
'Cause if you don't you'll have had your chips
The same as my old man.
While the era of full-employment came to a crashing end during the 1970s and has never fully recovered, this wasn't so much to do with technology as a change to government ideology (such as Regan's neo-liberal economics). Neither did the predictions of technology leading to the “leisure society” come to pass, as some sociologists predicted during the 1960s. This was supposed to an era where machines did more work and people could work less.
People sunbathe and swim on August 17  2016 at a beach in Leucate  where the burkini is probihibited...
People sunbathe and swim on August 17, 2016 at a beach in Leucate, where the burkini is probihibited by an order of the mayor
Raymond Roig, AFP
What the rise of technology did was alter the form of work, particularly pushing more people in to the service sector as traditional manufacturing declined. It remains, however, that as technology continues to advance which of the jobs done today may not be here tomorrow. A New York taxi driver, for example, may be replaced by a self-driving car if Uber’s plans come to fruition.
Transportation app Uber is seen on the iPhone of limousine driver.
Transportation app Uber is seen on the iPhone of limousine driver.
With permission by Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
The question of which jobs might disappear has occupied the time of Tom M. Mitchell, from Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science, and Erik Brynjolfsson, from the MIT Sloan School of Management. The two academics have penned a report looking into the future. One key part of their argument is that governments have failed to survey emerging technologies against the world of work and consequently appropriate policies are not being put in place to educate and train the next generation of workers.
The academics note that artificial intelligence and robotics will affect almost every occupation; what is uncertain is how this will occur and how many people will be displaced by technology. As ‘old’ jobs disappear new forms of work will be required. Here universities, industry and government need to work together to predict what these new jobs might be and how schools and colleges can develop appropriate curricula.
TOPIO  a humanoid robot  played ping pong at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition (IREX) 2009.
TOPIO, a humanoid robot, played ping pong at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition (IREX) 2009.
Humanrobo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
With this poor data analytics is not helping. In a statement Professor Mitchell explains: "There is a dramatic shortage of information and data about the exact state of the workforce and automation, so policymakers don't know answers to even basic questions such as 'Which types of technologies are currently having the greatest impacts on jobs?' and 'What new technologies are likely to have the greatest impact in the next few years?'
The scientist explains that technology should be evaluated for its positive and negative effects on the workforce. It is only through an honest and open debate that society can prepare for fundamental changes to the workplace. For instance, car production is likely to require minimal human input, yet technology, so far, has been unable to match human activity in the creative arts or where interpersonal skills are required. Robots greeting people in hotels may have novelty value but robots do not (at least yet) have the intuitive functionality to deal with people empathetically. Here the researchers recommend that where governments prepare people for the future, a strong emphasis should not only be on technology (so that people can efficiently interact with it and some can help to develop it), but also with understanding the human characteristics that differentiate people from machines in the workplace.
NAO robot  July 2  2015
NAO robot, July 2, 2015
Xavier Caré / Wikimedia Commons
The study is titled "Information Technology and the U.S. Workforce: Where Are We and Where Do We Go From Here”, and it appears in the journal Nature.
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