Why are most people afraid of robots? In North America, we are bombarded with mostly negative stories about the rise of robots, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA). The fear is driven by the catastrophic job losses that are anticipated if/when there is mass adoption of these new technologies.

Can we all agree that robots are coming? The key is to figure out how to prepare ourselves, adapt and leverage the opportunity they present.

According to: “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”, by author Martin Ford, the growth of automation threatens not just repetitive tasks and low-skilled jobs. Now AI, RPA and robot innovation also threaten many highly-skilled jobs. After studying for years to pursue a career, what if the demand for lawyers, accountants or software designers suddenly disappears?

Jobs or Money?

We don’t want to make light of the concern people have about technology potentially eliminating their jobs. But it’s possible that people are more afraid of not having enough money to live the way they want to versus being concerned with losing a particular job. Near the end of his book, Ford comes out in favour of a well-designed guaranteed income that provides a safety net.

Ford’s thesis is that a guaranteed income with the right incentives, has the potential to make the economy more dynamic and entrepreneurial. Because someone who has a secure job is unlikely to leave it to start a new business without a basic income guarantee.

New jobs will be created, but the question is whether there will be enough jobs and whether people will have the right training and skills to perform on the job.

Innovation takes time

Robots have been around for decades. In the past, the focus was on having robots do the ‘dirty, dangerous or dull tasks’. Because the goal was to reduce industrial accidents/deaths and to improve productivity. However, it has also led to a major restructuring of our economy – including a massive reduction in traditional manufacturing jobs. The media hype around AI indicates that a new tidal wave of innovation is on its way.

Ready or not, robots are coming. What will you do? Are you willing to engage with robots?… learn what they can do?… help make them better? Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and please share your perspectives.

Learn more…

For those keen to learn more, here are some resources you might find of interest:
Martin Ford Rise of the Robots (2015), The Lights in the Tunnel (2009)
Average is Over (2013)
Difference Engine: The Caring Robot (Economist article 2013)
The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains (2010)
Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained… McKinsey report (2017)