Automation: a threat to jobs?

 

Experts are divided over the impact of the growth of robots, software and artificial intelligence. This can be seen in a study published by the American research center, Pew, where 48% of respondents believe that automation will destroy jobs and also increase income inequality. The remaining 52%, for their part, see automation as an opportunity to rid ourselves of unwanted tasks and create new jobs for the human workforce.

 

47% of jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. Another study, conducted by Oxford academics, shows a real concern about a lightning-fast rise in "technological unemployment". According to them, for some jobs there is more than a 95% likelihood that they will be performed by machines in the future, such as analysts, secretaries, stevedores, bank employees, receptionists or cashiers.

 

Toward a new, worrying era

 

Driverless cars, deliveries made by drones, personal assistants on smart phones or even algorithm-generated journalism… These are a few examples of what automation could change in our daily lives by 2025, according to the experts canvassed by Pew. For 48% of them, this new environment would threaten a large majority of the workforce. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, fears that the growth of automation will lead to "a shrinking of the middle class and expansion of the ranks of the unemployed" and therefore decrease job security and further widen income inequality.

 

New jobs in the making

 

However, in the development of technological equipment, the majority of experts (52%) see an opportunity to leave the most unpleasant tasks to robots and so generate new jobs. Indeed, skilled workers will be needed to create and maintain these devices. Most experts canvassed believe, moreover, that the automation revolution will cause major changes in the very nature of jobs.

 

An issue that has long been divisive

 

Job loss due to technological innovation is nothing new. In the United States in the nineteen sixties, several researchers and Nobel laureates attracted the attention of then President Lyndon Johnson in a manifesto denouncing "a great wave of technological unemployment" due to the development of machines and computers. What causes concern today is rather the speed at which technology destroys rather than creates jobs. But in the Pew study experts like Vinton Cerf, Google vice president, said that "historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case." Perhaps that can reassure even the most pessimistic…

 

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