Are robots really stealing our jobs, or is it a conspiracy?

We’ve all seen the sci-fi movies that scare us with their future predictions about robots and artificial intelligence (AI). But as ‘the future’ slowly fades into the present, and we start catching up with some of the predictions – these films suddenly seem a little less fiction and a little more fact.

A lot of these films take an in depth look into robotics and AI, and the potential that technology has to take over the world… Without the assistance of humans. Many use the three robotic laws which Isaac Asimov created for his science fiction writing:

  • One: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • Two: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The trouble with the presence of robotics in science fiction, and the issue with having fictional plots so closely reflecting parts of our reality, is that they can easily create panic or fear, where there needn’t be any. 

So how much truth is there in these predictions about job losses, and how much should we really be worried about robots stealing our jobs?

I would put something here to reassure me that I shouldn’t be worried – by leaving me hanging it’s good if for a short time, but actually I think you leave me hanging for too long – so just tell me that’s it’s ok and you have good news 🙂 

The history

Revolutions in the workplace aren’t a new thing. Throughout history, the workforce and the way humans work, has had to adapt and change. Looking way back through history, electricity and transport were major game-changers that truly changed the landscape of many industries and many worker’s lives. 

The internet and computers were also big innovators in the world of work, and they have also changed the way many jobs function, and the way many jobs are done. 

Robots are likely the next big industrial / workplace revolution, but where does the fear / concern come from and is it grounded in truth? 

According to recent economic studies and analyses of the current job market, the chances of having your job automated in the coming years is high. But, as with anything, it depends on your industry and your role. 

Robots in the media 

If you browse the web, or read any newspapers, the chances are you’ve come across scary headlines regarding robots stealing our jobs and cutting employment rates. Here are a few headlines we found with a quick Google search… 

“Robots Are Stealing Our Jobs” – Entrepreneur 

“Robots Will Take Our Jobs And We Need A Plan” – Forbes 

“Are Robots Competing For Your Job?” – The New Yorker 

“Will Robots Take Our Children’s Jobs?” – The New York Times

The media is painting a picture of robots and creating a panic, and that much is clear to see. But it’s important to remember that the media thrives on panic, and these kind of headlines will always attract visitors and readers. With a little research, you might find the situation isn’t quite as bad as you originally thought. 

Which job roles are most at risk? 

The worry and concern is certainly out there for everyone to see – and it’s no wonder when you start to look around you. Slowly, but noticeable, there are certain jobs that have been replaced with robots or machines. Here are a few jobs you might’ve noticed have been replaced in your everyday life: 

  • Store check-out workers (replaced by self checkout systems) 
  • Ticket officers (replaced by ticket barriers and ticket machines) 
  • Train Conductors and Train drivers (in driverless systems, such as the DLR in London)
  • Airport Staff (replaced by self check-in and self printing ticket machines) 

According to most research and studies, the most at-risk jobs are jobs that focus heavily around processes, routines, patterns and schedules. These are things that can be programmed, and things that software can be easily designed or automated for. 

Some jobs that may find themselves at risk in the future are: 

  • Fast food jobs
  • Factory jobs 
  • Retail jobs
  • Information processing (such as admin roles or finance roles) 
  • Taxi driving (when self-driving cars are approved and introduced in the mainstream)

There is a super cool tool to show how scared you should be or how soon you should ‘upskill’ yourself. Take a look.

In reality 

However, with this being said, there are many jobs that aren’t at risk and it’s important to remember the reality. 

It’s key to remember what robots can’t achieve and what AI lacks and the many jobs that aren’t at risk and aren’t being replaced. 

Although AI has come a long way, it still lacks the emotion and personality that a human employee has. This tends to mean that most people-facing managerial positions or roles where interpretation of people are general safe. This would include roles such as teachers, doctors, therapists, manager roles, child care, customer service / customer care. 

Roles that involve decision-making, problem-solving and ad-hoc strategy are also relatively safe from robots too – as these require flexible and varied mindsets, which is more difficult to program with an automated algorithm. Roles like this include CEOs, managers, directors, and any roles that involve emergency or last-minute decision making. 

Adding to this, any jobs that require creativity or innovation will likely remain safe too – as creativity is something that can’t be programmed or ‘faked’. These roles might include photographers, artists, designers, writers, film directors, actors, performers and athletes.

So it’s not totally bleak and there are many roles that still have promising futures! 

Other obstacles for robots 

There are other obstacles in the way of robot domination in the professional workplace. Making the change to robots and automation is something that can be a huge financial investment for many brands and companies – so it’s something many are hesitant to do. This can be a big sticking point for the technology – because if it doesn’t become affordable for smaller businesses or independent businesses – many may never make the change to robots at all. 

Another major obstacle for robots, is that they can’t do everything. A human worker may be slower and less efficient – but they’re flexible and can easily be trained in new areas and tasks. Robots are usually programmed for one purpose and one purpose only – so the investment is only for one task. 

What does this all mean? 

It means the outlook isn’t as bad as you might think. Yes, some job roles are at risk and will continue to be at risk, but there are many jobs, roles and industries that will remain untouched by robot automation either completely, or for many years to come. 

Revolutions never happen over night, and any major changes will slow, gradual and happen over time. If you’re worried about your job being taken, there is time to adjust, learn new skills or research new areas of employment to slowly move into. 

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