Are Robots The Death Nail For Many Future Jobs?

Recruiting Engineering, scientific, IT, R&D or research and development and manufacturing talent getting tough. Aggressive engineer and scientist talent recruitment needed

As I wrote previously the proliferation of robots in all aspects of our life may be job killers of the future. Economist Erik Brynjolfson at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently echoed this sentiment.

Contrary to many of his colleagues at MIT, Mr. Brynjolfson had previously thought that robots and automation would not replace many uniquely human skills such as judgment and dexterity. However, when Google launched a fleet of driverless cars that had safely navigated more than 1000 miles of American roads, Mr. Brynjolfson’s opinions began to change.

This and other recent technological advances, such as computers reading facial expressions, have convinced experts like Mr. Brynjolfson to now believe that robots and automation may adversely affect the labor market. “It’s gotten easier to substitute machines for many kinds of labor,” said Mr. Brynjolfson.

Two other major examples are in mining and surgery. In the Australian Outback mining giant Rio Tinto uses driver-less trucks and drills to mine iron ore. They also plan automated trains to soon carry the ore to ports 300 miles away.

Intuitive Surgical has gained fame recently with their da Vinci line of robot surgery. In fact the U.S. Department of Defense recently signed a $430 million, five-year contract with Intuitive Surgical to provide robotic surgery to all military branches including the army, navy and marines.

All this has prompted technology research firm Gartner, Inc. to predict that almost 33% of all jobs will be replaced by robots and automation within 10 years! Furthermore, Oxford University economists forecast that within 20 years almost 50% of today’s jobs will be performed by machine technology.

But is this all cause for alarm? Maybe not because automation may move a lot slower than many predict. For example, bank ATMs spread quickly across the U.S. over the past 30 years, but only recently has the number of bank tellers declined. In 1985, there were 484,000 U.S. bank tellers. That number only dropped slightly to 472,000 in 2007. Now, mainly prompted by the recent recession, that number is 361,000.

Additionally, as there are more breakthroughs in AI (Artificial Intelligence), robotics and automation, there will be the need for more R&D, scientific, engineering, technical, IT and manufacturing talent to launch those innovations as well as manufacture, refine and service them. This will be a boon to technical recruiters like myself. Especially over the past few months where the demand for key technical people has far outstripped the supply, our executive recruiting firm has been swamped with engineering recruiting requests.

What are your thoughts?

2 Responses

  1. While nobody knows for sure how fast robots will take over jobs traditionally done by people, there are several significant consequences – and risks – to this slow tsunami of robotic job replacement. To wit:

    1. Vulnerability to power losses.

    2. Vulnerability to hacking / mischief.

    3. Political unrest – with the potential for 100’s of millions of jobs lost from this, people who see their ability to make a living will NOT take it lying down.

  2. As it turns out I just wrote & published something else on that.

    I do not disagree that mechanization and automation can be boons as well as banes. What I am concerned about is the PACE and SCALE of it. From farmers to industrial workers took the better part of a century. Now, we’re looking at the same level, if not greater, in a decade or two.

    We cannot ALL be artists, or makers of boutique soap, etc.

    And what happens when it’s “Lights Out”?
    (7 minute video)

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