Are Robots Taking Over? The Risks of Job Automation

In some recent blogs, we have shown a keen interest in new and innovative technologies and asked how this new tech can be implemented in our business strategies. Yet, one question we have failed to address is how this new tech can affect employment. In today’s post, we’d like to ask and answer a question that is having a significant global impact:

Are robots taking over?

  Image Credit:  Forbes

Image Credit: Forbes

Through the rapid growth and decline of the Industrial Revolution we witnessed the height of human employment and through de-industrialization have continued to see human employment, particularly in production and manufacturing, replaced by the computing revolution. In a 2013 report, researchers at Citi partnered with the Oxford Martin School to analyze the future of employment. In their study, they concluded that 47% of jobs are at risk of automation in the next two decades.

While the first wave of computer technology took over in manufacturing through replacing human workers on routine and repetitive jobs, the new technological advances made in the last fifteen years mean that machines are now able to perform a broader scope of tasks. Lessons learned through the shift from agrarian to industrialized society can show us that global and local economies are adaptable and responsive to change, we should still be considering whether the impact of automation will be felt equally around the world.

In light of this, Citi and Oxford Martin’s newest report from January 2016 considers the impact of automation in developing countries. Their research concluded that developing countries are at a proportionally higher risk to job loss and their predictions range from 55% to 85%. Due to lower levels of community demand and fewer social safety nets, employment in developing countries is under a huge threat from automation.

The 2016 report found that in the US the computing revolution was closely linked to the sustainability of US cities. Therefore, cities that responded to deindustrialization by becoming IT hubs appear to have a comparative advantage to cities that have not made a concerted effort to grow innovative technologies.

  Image Credit:  Warwick Business School

So, what kind of response is needed in order to adapt our economy and job market to the rise of automation? Though implementing automation usually results in higher levels of productivity, companies around the world are now faced to consider the consequences for the humans they are replacing. Citi and Oxford researchers feel the most effective policy response will be investment in education. Others still argue for promoting entrepreneurship through income guarantees.

These responses coincide with the new tech revolution we discussed happening in Makerspaces in colleges and universities around the country. If it appears that in fact robots are taking over, certainly with manufacturing, we will need creative and innovative responses to keep our every growing global population employed.