26 April 2017
Are robots taking over the world?

Robots haven’t just landed in the workplace—they’re expanding skills, moving up the corporate ladder, showing productivity and retention rates, and increasingly making their human colleagues obsolete.

“Machines have less problems. I’d like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?” Andy Warhol’s oft-quoted words were spoken in 1963. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been obsessed with the idea that machines will steal our jobs—and that fear appears to be playing out. 2016 was another year towards complete automation, with service and driver jobs—two of the most common professions in the United States—marching towards obsolescence.

A recent report conducted by Adecco, ‘Humans vs Robots’ was based on responses from 1,000 board level and senior decision makers and over 1,000 workers in 13 sectors across the UK. The report found that almost half of employees (48%) think Artificial Intelligence (AI) will positively benefit them, by helping them to work more flexibly.

Despite the ongoing fear that robots will steal our jobs leaving us redundant, two-thirds (65%) of employees interviewed believe that technology has increased the number of job opportunities available and the majority also believe that advances in technology will continue to create more jobs than it takes away over the next decade (54%).

Alex Fleming, Managing Director, Adecco UK and Ireland, commented, “Far from the widespread fear that automation will make employees redundant, our research shows that the workplace of the future could create opportunities for more flexible and fulfilling work. Many organisations and employees are buying into the idea of flexible working, but struggling to implement the reality. Our research suggests that robots could be a significant part of the solution.”

Dr Carl Benedikt Frey, Co-Director and Oxford Martin Citi Fellow, Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment added, “In many ways, robots could enhance careers rather than destroy them. The introduction of automation in the workplace will usher in a time where our jobs will become more creative and involve more social interaction. Although robots will render some occupations obsolete, as technology has in the past, humans and robots will also complement each other in many tasks, creating new types of jobs.”

In a study titled “Robots at Work”, Georg Graetz and his colleague Guy Michaels researched how the use of robots in 17 countries has impacted productivity gains, employment growth and other variables. They found that productivity increased more where robot use was more widespread. Robots account for more than one-sixth of the total productivity growth of 2 % per year in the countries included in the study.

“Industrial robots have long been important for improving efficiency, but it was not until the 1990s that they became really cheap, and therefore a possible option for more sectors and industries,” explains Georg Graetz.

87% of workers across the UK think that computers will make their role easier within the next ten years and of these, more than half (57%) think their jobs can be made a lot easier. This belief was high in the IT and telecoms sector, in which 68% of respondents agreed. It was also suggested that the introduction of robots would take on routine jobs allowing the 58% of those answered to choose which projects to work on.

Should robots pay taxes?

It may sound strange, but a number of prominent people have been asking this question lately. As fears about the impact of automation grow, calls for a “robot tax” are gaining momentum. Earlier this month, the European parliament considered one for the EU. Just a thought whilst we are on the subject.

In order to continue to stay ahead of the game, employers agreed (95% of them) that upskilling is essential to prepare people for the future. As the world changes, new jobs are created and existing jobs evolve with technologies available. Without putting people out of work, we need to learn to work together in harmony to help increase productivity and the economy in the UK. Tell us what your thoughts are!

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