If we didn’t have enough to worry about—Covid-19, a nation divided, massive job losses and civil unrest—now we have to be concerned that robots will take our jobs.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded in a recent report that “a new generation of smart machines, fueled by rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, could potentially replace a large proportion of existing human jobs.” Robotics and AI will cause a serious “double-disruption,” as the coronavirus pandemic pushed companies to fast-track the deployment of new technologies to slash costs, enhance productivity and be less reliant on real-life people.
Millions of people have lost their jobs due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and now the machines will take away even more jobs from workers, according to the WEF. The organization cites that automation will supplant about 85 million jobs by 2025. WEF says there’s nothing to worry about since its analysis anticipates the future tech-driven economy will create 97 million new jobs. Currently, approximately 30% of all tasks are done by machines—and people do the rest. However, by the year 2025, it’s believed that the balance will dramatically change to a 50-50 combination of humans and machines.
Management consulting giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers reported, “AI, robotics and other forms of smart automation have the potential to bring great economic benefits, contributing up to $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030.” However, it will come with a high human cost. “This extra wealth will also generate the demand for many jobs, but there are also concerns that it could displace many existing jobs.”
In a dire prediction, WEF said, “While some new jobs would be created as in the past, the concern is there may not be enough of these to go round, particularly as the cost of smart machines falls over time and their capabilities increase.”
Concerns of new technologies disrupting the workforce and causing job losses have been around for a long time. On one side, the argument is automation will create better new jobs and erase the need for physical labor. The counterclaim is that people without the appropriate skills will be displaced and not have a home in the new environment.
Banking and financial services employees, factory workers and office staff will seemingly face the loss of their jobs—or need to find a way to reinvent themselves in this brave new world. Millions would need to be reskilled to cope with the change, while governments would have to provide stronger safety nets for displaced workers.
“More than 120 million workers globally will need retraining in the next three years due to artificial intelligence’s impact on jobs, according to an IBM survey.” The amount of individuals who will be impacted is immense. The world’s most advanced cities aren’t ready for the disruptions of artificial intelligence, claims management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
It is believed that over 50 million Chinese workers may require retraining, as a result of AI-related deployment. The U.S. will be required to retool 11.5 million people in America with skills needed to survive in the workforce. Millions of workers in Brazil, Japan and Germany will need assistance with the changes wrought by AI, robotics and related technology.
High-profile business leaders and a small number of politicians are starting to speak out about the potential deleterious effects of transitioning to technology and replacing workers. “Computers, intelligent machines and robots seem like the workforce of the future. And as more and more jobs are replaced by technology, people will have less work to do and ultimately will be sustained by payments from the government,” predicts Elon Musk, the cofounder and CEO of Tesla.
Mark Cuban, a billionaire in the tech space and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, said in a CNBC interview, “President Donald Trump should be more aware of tech advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence and how that will impact America’s future.” Cuban said, “I’m willing to bet that these companies building new plants…this will lead to fewer people being employed.”
Andrew Yang, former Democratic presidential hopeful, was one of the few candidates and politicians vocalizing concerns over the ascendancy of AI. Yang’s official website offered the following:
“Advances in automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) hold the potential to bring about new levels of prosperity humans have never seen. They also hold the potential to disrupt our economies, ruin lives throughout several generations, and, if experts such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are to be believed, destroy humanity.”
States and governments have grave concerns over tax collections, as people are phased out and replaced by robots. Many cities are suffering financial challenges, as tax revenues plummeted with the closure of businesses and loss of income from the ranks of the newly unemployed. To compensate for the shortfall, billionaire founder of Microsoft and philanthropist Bill Gates called for a tax on robots, due to the disruption that will occur, resulting in the loss of jobs and tax revenue. “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” Gates said in an interview with Quartz.
AI, robotics and technology are advancing at a furious pace. We’re heading into uncharted territory without appropriate regulations, oversight or conversations around what this will do to society. As millions of workers will be displaced, with hopes that they can be retrained, it’s important that this trend needs to be carefully addressed. What will happen if the experts are wrong and we are unable to find jobs for the millions of Americans who no longer have “Fourth Industrial Revolution” skills? Technological innovation doesn’t have to stop, but it has to be monitored and analyzed to ensure that we don’t go past the point of no return.