While some “robotic” human jobs will be lost to machines, new jobs will rise to take their place.
The robots are coming to take our jobs! That’s one of the main fears surrounding the rise of AI – but it’s largely unfounded. The McKinsey Institute estimates that, in richer countries, only 14 percent of jobs are “highly automatable,” while only 5 percent of jobs are “entirely automatable.” This does not warrant dystopian visions of mass unemployment. But it still means that, by 2030, 375 to 700 million jobs could be made redundant by robots.
Some of the jobs likely to disappear are cashiers, grocery baggers, check-in assistants and other repetitive, low-skill work. Even routine legal work, accounting, analyzing and simple translation jobs can now be done by AI.
But such change isn’t necessarily a disaster for the economy. As some jobs are taken over by machines, new ones appear. In the 1900s, agriculture accounted for 40 percent of employment in the United States. Today, it only accounts for 2 percent, and yet overall employment has not diminished.
The World Economic Forum estimates that, by 2026, 12.4 million new jobs will be created in the USA. Some of these will directly relate to developing, building and maintaining robots. Others will be an indirect result of the AI revolution. For example, the spread of robots could free up people to take on more “human” positions, such as providing customers with personal guidance and advice.
In many cases, robots and AI are simply not what they’re cracked up to be. For example, the replacement of drivers by self-driving cars is going much slower than expected. For technical and legal reasons, none of the models available today are fully autonomous. Even when the vehicles steer themselves, drivers must stay alert and be ready to intervene. Fully self-driving vehicles function on only very restricted routes, such as between airport terminals.
Humans are simply better than machines at creative work like art, design or journalism – but they also come out on top in jobs that require flexible thinking and manual dexterity, such as plumbing, gardening and electrical work. A robot might be able to build your car, but if it breaks, you still have to go to a human technician.
So, in many areas, machines will simply work alongside their human counterparts, boosting their productivity. For example, many doctors are already using surgical robots to help them perform complicated procedures.
Another common misconception is that robots “work for free.” But robots and AI are very expensive to build, develop and maintain, and always at risk of obsolescence. The average industrial robot costs around $100,000 to buy, and up to four times as much to maintain over its lifespan. This means that, for some companies, human labor might simply be the cheaper option.