Many people fear that robots and AI will replace people in the workforce, leaving many individuals unemployed. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute says otherwise, but it does point out that human workers will need to learn to work with the robots. Their report, entitled “Harnessing automation for a future that works”, looks at current technology and past shifts in the workforce to present their claims, convincingly.
They Revealed the Numbers To Calm People’s Fears
The study assures us that robots are nowhere near the point of replacing people. What they can and will do is make people’s work more productive. With today’s technology, we can replace less than 5 percent of all occupations; 60 percent of all jobs have about 30 percent of tasks that automation could do. Half of today’s work tasks could be automated at some point between 2035 and 2075.
Few will lose their jobs to AIs or robots, the study tells us. It tells us that some of those jobs will change, as workers learn to supervise robots and put them to our advantage. The study predicts a raise in productivity because of automation of between 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually for 19 of the world’s largest economies.
They show that this should lead to a growth of GDP by 0.9 to 1.5 percent each year. These are not wonderfully high numbers by themselves, but automation is not the only thing that drives growth. Increased growth will be a boon to people, especially now, after so many years of mediocre economic growth. Jim Gunderson, PhD, former Cognitive Systems Architect at Gamma Two Inc., says that
This is another industrial revolution – the 4th. Jobs that were done by people 100 years ago are now done by machines, we have responded by creating new types of jobs. It is disruptive, but we respond by adapting.
Divided Opinions On What it Actually Means
Some economists are less optimistic, arguing that the technical advances that we’re seeing now are mostly used for leisure, and not comparable with previous advances, like the steam engine, aviation, or automated assembly lines. Other economists claim that this doesn’t actually matter. Personal-use technology such as smartphones and personal computers have spawned huge industries that have become major players in our economy.
Technological advances have always raised the fear that machines would put people out of work. Sir James Watt’s steam engine, mechanical looms, and power machinery have always been opposed by people who feared widespread unemployment as a result of technical advances.
A quintessential example of this is the folk tale of John Henry, the steel-driving man who tried to outperform a mechanical drill and won, but died as a result of the contest. Steam engines did not result in massive unemployment, they just changed the jobs that people did, and brought more prosperity to everyone.
Automated looms put hand looms out of business, but they also greatly reduced the price of woven goods, improving life for everyone. The people who were no longer busy with a loom found other means of employment, and everyone was better off because of the change in technology.
Our Future Is Brighter, Not Dimmer
In 1900, 40 percent of the population in the US worked in agriculture. By 2000, it was 2 percent, because machinery had made every human worker so much more productive. This did not lead to 38 percent unemployment. The more that jobs are productive, the more jobs there are that are worth doing.
Robots and AIs are coming, and this cannot be stopped. It is indeed a good thing and it will be a benefit for everyone. We should welcome it, not look at it with fear.
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