Are Robots Threatening To Destroy Our Jobs?

Written by Dana Sanchez
1 of 2

There’s a robot that can make (and flip) a gourmet hamburger in 10 seconds and could soon replace a McDonald’s crew. There’s a manufacturing device that doesn’t just grasp, glue, screw, solder and paint — it builds new parts for itself when old parts break. And Google has a patent to start building worker robots with personalities.

Oxford University researchers estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20 years.

Are robots threatening to destroy our jobs? Or is it worse than that? Are we allowing robots to sew the seeds of our destruction? Both? Tesla CEO Elon Musk says artificial intelligence is more of a risk to the world than is North Korea. He and 100 other robotics and artificial intelligence experts want the United Nations to ban one of the deadliest forms of such machines: autonomous weapons.

History is littered with moments when people worried about the impact of technology on jobs and many of those concerns proved unfounded. The current climate is no different, Paul Osterman wrote for PBS.


robots threatening
akaki kapanadze

The Economist asked this question, “Are robots threatening to destroy our jobs?” Here are some responses on Twitter.


OK so who’s really in control?

If you think that humans will have all the control, think again, Abhinav Sakalle wrote in It is not just about artificial intelligence, Sakalle said:

Tech companies are working on bringing super-intelligent machines which will be greater than humans and will have the ability to think on their own and make decisions.

If you tell AI advocates that machines will end the world and human race, they will simply laugh and advise you to stop watching “Terminator,” “Transformers” and other AI-inspired movies. But in reality, no one knows the point at which we should stop making more advanced machines. When machines will replace humans, there is a very high chance that we will misjudge the power of machines and sign our own death warrant.

I ain’t afraid of no stinkin’ robot

Workers are not afraid of losing their jobs to automation, contrary to many reports, according to HR services provider Randstad. In fact employees are more than willing to retrain if it means they can earn more and learn about AI and robotics in the workplace, according to a Randstad press release.

The 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research found that 76 percent of U.S. workers do not fear automation, while 14 percent of U.S. employees worry that automation will take their job away. Nearly a third (30 percent) say they think automation will make their job better.

The rise of the useless class

In his 2014 book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” Israeli  Yuval Noah Harari said humans have two kinds of ability that make us useful: physical ones and cognitive ones, as reported in the Guardian:

The Industrial Revolution may have led to machines that did away with humans in jobs needing strength and repetitive actions. But the takeover was not overwhelming. With cognitive powers that machines could not touch, humans were largely safe in their work. For how much longer, though? AIs are now beginning to outperform humans in the cognitive field. And while new types of jobs will certainly emerge, we cannot be sure, says Harari, that humans will do them better than AIs, computers and robots.

Let them pay taxes

Workers see robots taking over duties that range from building cars (and now driving them) to preparing meals. Claims no longer resonate that automation will free up humans to do newer, more creative tasks, according to a Mass Live editorial that proposes making robots pay taxes:

An official in San Francisco is proposing a “robot tax” to counter surging automation that threatens to replace human workers in many types of jobs.

As one security guard put it, robots start work precisely on time, they don’t complain and they don’t take lunch breaks. They don’t ask for raises, either. At least not yet. Labor unions applaud the discussion the tax initiative is creating over the effects of automation. Supporters say the tax money could be reinvested toward college for workers, retraining or retooling as employees relocate, or even for better wages.

Robots cannot go shopping…I think…maybe

NPR‘s Ari Shapiro asked Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, if artificial intelligence is threatening our jobs:

What do you see as the sector of the workforce that is least likely to change or least likely to disappear?

Brynjolfsson: Well, there are three big categories that machines are really bad at. They’ve made tremendous advances, but they’re bad at first off doing creative work. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a scientist or a novelist, I think you’re in pretty good shape doing that long-range creativity. The second big category is interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, people who are coaches or salespeople or negotiators or caregivers. And the third one is actually manual dexterity and physical mobility. Machines have a hard time doing simple things like picking up a nickel or walking up stairs or clearing a table.


Blaming the Democrats

Wait. Are robots or Mexicans to blame for job losses? “The truth is that both automation and offshoring are powerful, and perhaps even equal, factors,” Larry Light reported for CSC News:

“Pinning the blame for the disappearance of manufacturing jobs on offshoring is perhaps more emotionally potent. With dark foreboding, Mr. Trump points to the flight of factory jobs to low-wage regions of the globe as nothing less than an existential threat to the working class. In his inaugural address, he spoke of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”

For Democrats, Never-Trumpers and other critics of the president, putting the onus on automation is a bid to make (Trump’s) crusade seem like a foolish and misguided effort to resist inexorable forces like innovation and globalization.”

Age matters

In the fast-changing 21st-century jobs market, workers need strong cognitive and social skills to do increasingly creative work and to become successful lifelong learners. Many middle-aged and older workers risk losing out in the tech-driven economy if their skill gaps cannot be sufficiently bridged, according to a Brookings blog. Older workers are often poorly prepared and less likely than younger workers to have strong experience in using computers.

Argument: Robots will create more human jobs, not less

Robots have already taken many jobs. So why is the unemployment rate so low? Have self-service checkouts in supermarkets reduced retail employment? Are fewer people employed in travel as a result of online check-in? Different jobs become available in place of those that are eliminated, Diginomica reported.

Many economists and workers worry about the future of the job market, and the long-term impacts of automation, Paul Osterman wrote for PBS:

Work is gradually disappearing, the argument goes. Robots will steal our jobs. History is littered with moments when people worried about the impact of technology on jobs and many of those concerns proved unfounded. The current climate is no different.