Everywhere I turn, people are talking about robots. On the news, in the papers, on the tube. Whilst AI and robotics technology has been steadily improving throughout recent decades, the pace of innovation has recently accelerated.
With these developments has come the inevitable questions about what this means for society. Will the rise of the robots replace the majority of jobs, creating huge inequality and wage struggles? Or will they mark the beginning of a work-lite utopia, where we all pursue cultural endeavours (backed up by a universal minimum income) and let the robots carry on with the hard work.
If you think about it, the 'robots are taking our jobs' fear is nothing new. In fact, technological advances have been taking jobs for many years now. From automated machinery replacing factory hands, to self-scan check-outs replacing cashiers, the evolution of work has never not been in full swing, (don't forget the whole car replacing the horse thing).
To date, the human workforce has adapted accordingly. As manufacturing and heavy industry related jobs disappeared off-shore, the UK economy became increasingly service-led. Our main GDP drivers are no longer cotton and coal, but banking, law and professional services. We're also slowly upskilling the population to cope with this new normal. More people than ever are studying computer science and other digital facing subjects. Our children are also being taught coding in school.
But the robots just keep getting smarter. Jobs that we thought humans would always perform are now looking at little less secure. From adult social care and long-haul driving, to company audits and legal advice, the technology is starting to threaten the jobs we created to replace those that technology had already replaced!
So should we be panicking? Is there no point encouraging our children down a career path that might soon be obsolete? If history is anything to go by, it's probably not time to sound the alarm just yet. Humans have an uncanny knack of evolving their jobs and responsibilities in line with technological advances. In the 1970s, scientists predicted the end of the 9-5 day due to increasingly sophisticated robot hardware. In fact, we actually work much longer hours nowadays and this pace shows no sign of slowing down just yet.
It can't be denied that we will see more 'robots' taking up previously human-led roles in our day to day economy over the coming years. Whether this will be a disaster or a triumph will be very reliant on how governments and policy-makers react to such changes. Creating societies where we can survive and thrive whilst not working full-time is a complicated, but not insurmountable, challenge. Working less hours would free us up to fulfil caring roles more easily, pursue education, take in more culture and do some exercise. All traits which would probably lead to a healthier and happier nation all round.
As the robots rise, we'll see society adapt to it along with the type of jobs which are seen as mainstream. Whilst this means change, perhaps wholesale change, we shouldn't miss a single opportunity to make this a change for the better.
Ran is the CEO of Flat Rock Technology.
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