Pew Report on the Effect of Technology on Jobs

tags: unemployment

Pew Research did a “canvassing” (meaning, not scientific survey) of experts and have released the results of one of their questions: AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs

They asked this question:

Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?

Forty eight percent (48%) of the experts said yes, while 52% said no. (More information about the methodology is on page 2 of the article.)

Awesomely, Pew also collection free-form responses, which they logically grouped into “arguments” and “possibilities.”

For instance, many people were positive on the effect of technology on jobs, and Pew grouped them as such:

  1. Throughout history, technology has been a job creator – not a job destroyer
  2. Advances in technology create new jobs and industries even as they displace some of the older ones
  3. There are certain jobs that only humans have the capacity to do
  4. The technology will not advance enough in the next decade to substantially impact the job market
  5. Our social, legal, and regulatory structures will minimize the impact on employment

And the negative:

  1. Displacement of workers from automation is already happening – and about to get much worse
  2. The consequences for income inequality will be profound.

The quotes from the expert participants are just fantastic.

Historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case. Someone has to make and service all these advanced devices.

– Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google

While robots may displace some manual jobs, the impact should not be different than previous waves of automation in factories and elsewhere.

– Michael Kende, the economist for a major Internet-oriented nonprofit organization

There will be a vast displacement of labor over the next decade. That is true. But, if we had gone back 15 years who would have thought that ‘search engine optimization’ would be a significant job category?

– John Markoff, senior writer for the Science section of the New York Times

Even simple technologies have been doing this – most of what was a secretary’s job has been replaced by answering machines and Word.

– Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Some other notes of interest –

Self-driving cars won’t just put truckers out of business, but will likely reduce the number of cars on the road altogether, which would have huge ramifications for many industries.

Self-driving vehicles promise to upend existing approaches to car ownership, car design, car sales and insurance, urban planning, logistics, deliveries, taxi services, etc. That will be a big change, as significant as the advent of smartphones.

– Tom Standage, digital editor for The Economist

Not everyone agrees:

Automated cars will not make it into use – this is way harder than anybody is letting on in public conversation.

– A professor at a major U.S. business school

Some spoke of the encroachment of robots into law enforcement:

You will see early versions of RoboCop on city streets. Looking at the current evolution of surveillance drones we can anticipate that that they will have the ability to interpret sound and images. […] An interesting question is whether they will also have non-lethal weapons, such as tasers. Several incidents of attacks on robots will be reported.

– Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

All of the quotes are fascinating to read. Kudos to Pew for convening this many great thinkers on a question like this.

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