Will robots steal our jobs?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the bleak future of employment: Claims that robots will steal all the jobs are commonplace in the media and in academia. These concerns are driven by a host of new technologies that automate physical and intellectual tasks.  The prospect of Robots taking up jobs might sound scary but it seems to be an impending reality already started happening in some pockets, but with displacement also comes new job opportunities

Well this sounds like science fiction or a figment of wild  imagination- but very much a possibility. As one looks at the annual results of major IT services providers in India, most of them are deepening their competencies in automation so that they can achieve the twin goal- improved productivity and reduction in lead times. But it also has the impact on the workforce – will it lead to large-scale reduction in employee count?

While that is a possibility in IT services, but at the same time as we look at a recent Forrester report it said that “Robots won’t steal our jobs; Automation to create 13.6 million jobs over next decade; 7% net job loss by 2025”. According to Forrester, the data in the market on anticipated job loss – thanks to automation is quite dire – the most popular study claiming nearly 50% of jobs will be impacted. But these studies have so far ignored an important factor of automation that is -jobs created.

Analysts at Forrester say: “Yes, there will be jobs lost in the coming years thanks to robots, driver-less cars, and cognitive computing – we predict a 16% job loss rate between 2015 and 2025. Forrester forecasts automation will create 13.6 million jobs over the next decade, equivalent to 9% of the workforce, to yield a net job loss of 7% in the US by 2025.”

Not to be overlooked, according to the study, is a third category: jobs transformed. By 2019, Forrester expects robots to change 25% or more of every job category across every industry. The medical clinician is a great example, as cognitive computing increasingly transforms how doctors diagnose and prescribe treatments.

Key Questions 

This backdrop opens up a whole lot of questions like – What does this mean for business? Experts say that the current thinking has pushed for a rush toward automation to cut costs, but that quite simply should not be the focus. Rather than serving customers as cheaply as possible, automation should be thought of as a means to delivering a customer experience that meets customer expectations instantly. To do so, firms must turn their efforts toward creating an environment where human employees can effectively work alongside robots.

Reflecting on this Forrester Analyst J.P. Gownder in the research report ‘ The Future Of Jobs, 2025: Working Side By Side With Robots” says that: “There’s a lot of talk these days about the bleak future of employment: Claims that robots will steal all the jobs are commonplace in the media and in academia. These concerns are driven by a host of new technologies that automate physical tasks (robotics), intellectual tasks (cognitive computing), and customer service tasks (everything from self-help kiosks to grocery store scanners). While these technologies are both real and important, and some jobs will disappear because of them, the future of jobs overall isn’t nearly as gloomy as many prognosticators believe. In reality, automation will spur the growth of many new jobs — including some entirely new job categories.”

Worst and Best Case Scenarios

Let’s here look at some dire case scenarios in terms of job losses:

Oxford professors Carl Frey and Michael Osborne said in a 2013 research paper that 47% of US jobs are at high-risk category due to automation and 19% as medium risk. They analyzed 702 different occupations and cited machine learning as a biggest threat and will replace human knowledge.

Another research suggests about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of automation over the following 20 years, according to a study done by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte.

Meanwhile in an very interesting book titled “Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK: How to Survive the Economic Collapse and Be Happy authored by Federico Pistono, he observed, “You are about to become obsolete. You think you are special, unique, and that whatever it is that you are doing is impossible to replace. You are wrong. As we speak, millions of algorithms created by computer scientists are frantically running on servers all over the world, with one sole purpose: do whatever humans can do, but better”.


Clearly Robots and automation will lead to a large disruption and the more impact is going to happen on the white collared space. The wide scale impact of automation onus will be felt in so many different ways and it’s a blunt reality we are facing right now. If we look at another significant book on this area titled “ Rise of the Robots’ by Martin Ford, he recently told NPR.org “As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate. So I think there is every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”

Quite a depressing picture indeed but the rosy side according to Forrester analysts like Gownder is that automation will create 13.6 million new jobs in the next decade. “Automation will create jobs equivalent to 9% of the workforce through 2025. Those are new jobs that wouldn’t exist at all otherwise. For every 10 jobs cannibalized by automation, one new job is created in software, engineering, design, maintenance, support, training”, he says.

The Way Forward

The two major takeaways out of automation is that- there is cannibalization of jobs and there is new jobs to be created. The new jobs however will demand completely new skill sets and that sets a tone for a different debate all together.

Use Case:

Look at Rethink Robotics – a company that’ works with an intent to accelerating robotics innovation in manufacturing and beyond, the company has launched its famed Baxter Research Robot that gives academic and corporate research environments a humanoid robot platform with integrated sensors and an open software development kit for creating custom applications.

“Collaborative robots like Baxter can effectively interact with humans in factories, but in the unstructured and variable urban environments that are home to millions of blind people, the complexity skyrockets,” said Scott Eckert, chief executive officer, Rethink Robotics.






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