Are Robots Stealing or Creating Jobs?

Robots: Will they or won't they?
Robots: Will they or won’t they?

This post is brought to you by my friends at I write a great deal about the coming technology take over of work. I though I would let you read something about this from another voice. 
Are robots destined to put humans out of work, or will they create the biggest job boom in history? Experts are debating this issue anew after technology research firm Gartner predicted at last year’s Symposium/ITxpo that robots or software would replace one-third of all workers by 2025, as Computerworld reported. Gartner research director Peter Sondergaard emphasized how robots are increasingly performing not just manual labor and factory job tasks, but analytical tasks, ranging from performing medical diagnostics to financial analysis to grading tests.
Questioning the implications of this outlook, Forbes political economy editor John Tamny argues that robots will actually stimulate unprecedented job growth. Tamny foresees that automation will free workers from performing laborious tasks to do more meaningful, creative work and invent new technologies. Furthermore, Tamny says, robots will simultaneously free up capital companies spend on unnecessary labor, which investors can instead pour into new growth industries that will create jobs. Tamny’s points, elaborated in his book “Popular Economics,” underscore some of the factors that point toward the positive potential robots possess for job creation.

Robots Lack People Skills

First of all, robots can’t do certain things even in principle, and there are other things they don’t do well at this point. Even Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who foresee robotics advances ushering in a “Second Machine Age,” concede this point.
McAfee pointed out in an interview with PBS that robots are clumsy compared to humans when it comes to physical tasks such as navigating the physical world and handling objects. For instance, a robot would have a hard time ironing clothes because of the variety of shapes and sizes and permutations involved. Robots also lack important human communication skills in areas such as subtlety of inflection, leadership and negotiation. C3PO may be fluent in over 6 million forms of communication, but he still doesn’t understand jokes. Finally, robots lack creativity. Nesta research concludes that 86 percent of U.S. jobs in creative fields such as graphic design, music, and video game programming are not at risk from robots.
Robots are best-suited to certain types of jobs that are dirty, dangerous, dull, or done in distant locations such as underwater or outer space. In other areas, they will tend to assist human workers and reduce the number of employees needed for a task rather than simply replacing humans.

Someone Has to Run the Robots

One reason the growth of robotics will create jobs is that workers are needed to run and repair robots. In March 2012, Fortune reported that demand for skilled robotics workers was surging in places such as Detroit and Washington, D.C., with help-wanted ads increasing 40 percent in the first two months of the year alone. Employers were having so much trouble filling positions that qualified candidates could write their own tickets. This trend has only increased in the past few years, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting that demand for qualified robotics workers will grow 13 percent by 2018.
Candidates with robotics skills today are positioned to enter a fast-growing field comparable to the auto industry at the beginning of the 20th century, the electronics industry after World War II, or the computer industry in recent decades.

Robots Create New Industries

The growth of the robotics industry is, in turn, fueling the growth of industries that depend on robots. Robots are needed to build green technology such as solar panels, wind turbines and eco-friendly cars and car batteries. Robots are also required for applications such as electronics, aerospace, lab automation, consumer-packaged goods and even the food industry. Research firm Metra Martech estimated in 2013 that robotics would create between 2.15 million and 3.5 million jobs between 2012 and 2020.

Robots Cut Costs, Promote Productivity & Reduce Safety Risks

Robots can also create jobs by cutting costs and boosting productivity for employers, generating more profit and creating more available capital. Boston Consulting Group projects that as robots continue to transform manufacturing, productivity will surge in nations such as the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Germany, lowering labor costs by 18 percent or more and boosting productivity 10 to 30 percent in some industries. Robots also reduce workplace safety risks, Apple Rubber adds, thereby cutting the potentially enormous expenses related to industrial accidents.

Robots Promote Innovation

Ultimately, economic progress and job growth depend on innovation, which is another area where robots can contribute. Robots free humans from menial tasks to concentrate on more complex work. And although robots and computers lack human creativity, they can support tasks needed for human creative projects, such as analyzing big data, 3D visualization and printing of prototypes, assisting in laboratory experiments and applying business intelligence. Just as computer drawing tools have made graphic design artists’ jobs easier, robots can assist humans with devising the innovations that drive industry.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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