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Are robots really going to steal your job?

Sarah K. White | Sept. 22, 2015
It's a common theme of science fiction, robots rise up and take over earth, leaving humans as subservient slaves to their emotionless computer chip brains. But a recent report from Forrester suggests a very different future for robots at work.

Of course it's impossible to accurately predict how many jobs might be lost to automation, but that certainly hasn't stopped researchers from trying. Gownder predicts in his report that as many as 22.7 million jobs could be displaced by automation, but that 13.6 million jobs will be created as a result of robots. He even predicts that 25 percent of all jobs across every industry will be transformed by as early as 2019, similar to how the introduction of automated spreadsheets freed up financial directors to focus on financial strategy and investment, rather than doing arithmetic with basic calculators.

In his report, Gownder even points out that oftentimes the media picks up on robots replacing jobs, rather than creating them. And there are other researchers who back him up, including a report from Ian Stewart in 2014 that touts technology as a "great job-creating machine." And history does suggest that both researchers make a good point, considering technology has created major advancements from generation to generation by making our jobs, and lives, easier. Still, modern society seems to hold onto a suspicion of technology and artificial intelligence.

Battle of the robots

Some of this suspicion is warranted, but much of that legitimate fear isn't necessarily career focused. Instead, robotics researchers, and even figures like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, have significant concerns about military artificial intelligence, rather than Baxter or Google's 160 pound robot dog. While scientists and concerned robotics researchers point out that replacing soldiers with robots would reduce causalities, it could also open up a Pandora's Box in warfare. They aren't calling for the military to abandon all artificial intelligence pursuits, but rather consider the ramifications before employing robots in warfare.

But these concerns about robots in the military could reasonably extend to the workforce. However, rather than look at how we can replace jobs with robots, business leaders should consider how robots can leverage their current workforce or even make it safer. For example, employing a robot to complete an automated task could, instead of replacing that employee, free that person up to conduct more strategic business or customer service. And although your business may be hesitant -- or in some cases, overeager -- to welcome robot, it's important to be prepared and factor artificial intelligence into future business plans. As with most emerging technologies, CIOs and IT departments need to consider plans to implement robots in their workforce in a way that will not only bolster their business, but create new opportunities for their flesh and blood employees.


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