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Robots Will Steal Our Jobs, But They’ll Give Us New Ones

At the Dusseldorf airport, robotic valet parking is now reality. You step out of your car. You press a button on a touch screen. And then a machine lifts your car off the ground, moving all three tons of it into a kind of aerial parking bay. Built by a German company called Serva Transport, the system saves you time. It saves garage space, thanks to those carefully arranged parking spots. And it’s a sign of so many things to come.

But the one thing it doesn’t do, says J.P. Gownder, an analyst with the Boston-based tech research firm Forrester, is steal jobs. In fact, it creates them. Before installing the robotic system, the airport already used automatic ticket machines, so the system didn’t replace human cashiers. And now, humans are needed to maintain and repair all those robotic forklifts. These are not white-collar jobs,This is the evolution of the repair person. It’s harder to fix a robot than it is to fix a vending machine.

Gownder uses the Dusseldorf parking garage as a way of showing that the coming revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence may not squeeze the human workforce as much as some pundits have feared. In a widely cited study from 2013, Oxford professors Carl Frey and Michael Osbourne say that machines could replace about 47 percent of our jobs over the next 20 years, but in a new report released today, Gownder takes a more conservative view. Drawing on government employment data and myriad interviews with businesses, academics, and, yes, pundits, Gownder predicts that new automation will cause a net loss of only 9.1 million U.S. jobs by 2025. The horizon of his study is much closer, but his numbers are well under the roughly 70 million jobs that Frey and Osbourne believe to be in danger of vaporization.

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