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Pew Report: Robotics, A.I., and Jobs

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Scientists, programmers, and engineers work ceaselessly to develop improvements in robotics and artificial intelligence, which constitute some of the most impressive technological feats ever accomplished. Impressive personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana can interpret voice commands, provide useful information, and even tell jokes, while incredible supercomputers like IBM’s Watson can make hypotheses and literally learn.

Pew Research recently conducted a survey to assess experts’ predictions about the economic implications of robotics and artificial intelligence. Experts split pretty evenly over whether or not technological improvements will create more jobs than they will displace, with 48% predicting that technology will displace a significant amount of workers and 52% expecting that technology will create more jobs than it will eliminate.

Common negative predictions about improvements in artificial intelligence and robotics – more automation will eliminate certain jobs; this automation could exacerbate income inequality, and our current educational system does not adequately prepare us for tomorrow’s employment realities. Stowe Boyd, a researcher with GigaOM Research, summarizes, “The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based’ economy?”

The more optimistic experts communicated different understandings regarding technological improvements – emphasizing human agency, opportunities for new jobs, and the declining need for people to conduct tedious or repetitive tasks. Michael Kende, the Chief Economist of the Internet Society, argues, “Someone will have to code and build the new tools, which will also likely lead to a new wave of innovation and jobs.”

The report is evocative of recent comments made by Google Co-Founder Larry Page, who has discussed the possibility of fewer Americans working 40 hours per week in the future. Page believes that as technology makes meeting basic human needs easier and easier, more humans can enjoy more leisure time more often. A large percentage of the experts from this Pew study would likely agree.

Both the optimists and the skeptics present strong evidence, and the future of jobs, artificial intelligence, and robotics will likely fulfill predictions from both camps.

No one is arguing that the impacts of technology will not be immense.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com