Robots Redefine Employment

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Robots continue to change the way humans experience the world and generate a lot of anxiety as a result. Since automation started to replace assembly line workers the threat of automation robbing humans of their livelihoods has been debated. That robots have and will continue to change employment is not in question but little consensus has been reached on how they will redefine work in human society.

Studies of automation have focused on everything from how it will affect the overall world economy to which specific jobs are likely to best withstand technological advancement. A study of over 2,500 analysts and scientists by the Pew Research Center recently found experts nearly evenly split regarding whether robots would ultimately increase or decrease the number of jobs available for human workers. Which jobs are likely to remain the longest is a question pondered by economic forecasters and college students alike. Some research indicates that jobs with repetitive tasks will be absorbed by automation before those that are more complex in nature, but many of these predictions have been called into question by the advent of things such as self driving cars and automated journalists.

Some believe that there are still other occupations that will require a human touch and remain immune to a robot invasion. An argument can and has been made that certain jobs require an emotional component that robotics simply cannot duplicate. Everything from sympathetic customer service representatives to doctors with a quality bedside manner would remain human only occupations. This seems to be an obvious conclusion, however, jobs previously thought to be outside the realm of automation have and are being replaced. In a world where grocery store cashiers are being replaced by automated self checkout lanes it is possible that human interaction is not as necessary as some believe. If a robot doctor could set more bones faster and better than a human doctor the bedside manner might become less of an issue.

As previous conceptions about the advancement of technology are challenged and technology progresses at a faster pace new questions are beginning to emerge. While some questions are still grounded in a familiar economic structure and focus on concepts such as education and market ingenuity, one question may generate as much hope as it does anxiety. What will human society look like if and when machines take over the bulk of all labor? As robots continue to take on more jobs and do them more efficiently, some believe the need for human employment may decrease to the point that the economic structure becomes completely redefined. If the needs of a society can be met by automation alone a society could develop where jobs become unnecessary. If robots created a world where nearly everything existed in excess, the concept of money would at least be changed and possibly even eliminated. A world without work, though, would leave humans with an excess of time and potentially a lack of meaningful activity.

The continued development of automation has and will continue to impact human culture. The distinct possibility exists that at some distant date humans may have an economy based entirely on wants rather than needs, which would mean work would only be done by machines or humans who truly desire to do it. The question of what to do when one does not need to work would be a question all humanity would have to face. It is possible that robots will not only redefine employment, but humanity itself.

By David Morris


U.S. News & World Report
The Irish Times