Robots at work

Hi, robot: Comparing the chances of five UK jobs being replaced by machines in the next 20 years.

Will technology help or hurt our careers? Machines are transforming all sorts of industries — from cookery to surgery. Find out what this could mean for you in the future.

  • Will AI replace many jobs?

    Yes, most likely. In 2016, a Chinese electronics company, Foxconn, replaced 60,000 workers with machines. By 2034, 47% of jobs could be lost to artificial intelligence, or AI for short. Professor Moshe Vardi works at Rice University in the US, and he says future machines will “outperform humans at almost any task”.

    Jobs at risk include accountants, taxi drivers and even journalists. Priests could also be endangered. A Roman Catholic app called Confession offers its users a chance to reflect on their conscience. This week, a robot priest began working at a Buddhist temple in Japan.

  • So, everyone will be out of a job?

    Not necessarily. Machines will also create new jobs for people to do. The World Economic Forum predicts that machines will create two million jobs by 2020.

  • What kinds of jobs?

    Many of these new machines need humans to operate them, and that means jobs for people. Millions of operations have been performed by surgeons using da Vinci medical robots since 2000. These medical robots still need real people to be in charge of important decisions. Businesses and governments need teams of cybersecurity experts to understand and protect the data gathered by computers. With virtual reality (VR) becoming more popular, creative people will be needed to build the amazing worlds seen through a VR headset.

  • So, will robots just do all the boring jobs?

    Many are optimistic that robots will free us from dull work. In a 2017 survey, 94% of business bosses said they thought more robots would mean more people would want to employ human workers. This is because robots lack skills such as teamwork, creativity and problem-solving. But robots are excellent at doing mundane tasks like checking numbers or contracts and filing tax returns.

  • Great! Does that mean creative careers are all safe?

    Actually, no. Last year, the auction house Christie’s sold its first AI painting for over $400,000 — although the painting was made by learning from human art first. Meanwhile, a Google AI called Magenta has already composed original music.

  • That doesn’t sound good for humans. What are the benefits of more robots?

    New technology has destroyed jobs before, but they are always replaced by new, different jobs. The same could happen again this time.

    Some people also think that more robots could lead to a stronger economy. With the extra money being generated, everyone could receive a universal income. The idea is that people are given a certain amount of money to live on each month, so they do not have to worry as much about finding a job. That idea has already been tested in Alaska and Finland.

You Decide

  1. Will machines make our future brighter?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are the head of a robotics company and have been asked to design a new robot. What will your robot look like? What tasks will it be able to perform? What will it be called? Sketch out your design and label all of its exciting features. Then, ask yourself: whose job might be at risk if this robot was invented? How will you make sure it benefits all humans?

Word Watch

Artificial intelligence
Often abbreviated to AI, a branch of computer science in which scientists programme computers to think like humans and make decisions, and to perform tasks.
Accountants
Those who prepare the accounts, which means they look after or inspect the records and reports to do with money for a person or for businesses.
Conscience
A person’s moral sense of right and wrong. Being aware of what you have done and considering whether your conduct is good or bad.
Cybersecurity
The technology that monitors computers and keeps information safe, and protects from outside interference.
Mundane
Dull or ordinary. (The original meaning is “worldly; of this world”.)
Contracts
A written or spoken agreement.
Economy
Production and consumption of goods and services to create wealth. The more an economy produces what people want, the more wealth it will generate. People who live in a country with a stronger economy tend to have more money and a better quality of life.
Universal income
Money that is given to all citizens by the government, without having to work for it.

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