Why robots are not taking our jobs

By Simon Houlton, CEO, IScreenYouScreen

In 2016, Japanese company SoftBank opened a phone store in Tokyo that was entirely staffed by sales associates called Pepper. What’s to worry about that, you ask. Well, all the Peppers were robots and yet again, the world descended into madness at the thought of androids taking over our jobs.

Unfortunately, it’s seems that every time revolutionary technology is introduced to make companies more efficient it seems to send people into a moral panic. In fact, over the past few years, it’s been suggested that dramatic advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will lead us to a jobless future.

After all, we are living in the “age of technology,” in which labour-intensive work in all kinds of industries; manufacturing, sales and food preparation, has become automated. The takeover of menial tasks has led to the belief that workers in complex analytical jobs will be replaced.

In a report by consultancy firm, PwC, they found that more than 10 million UK workers are at risk of being replaced by robots within 15 years (https://www.pwc.co.uk/services/economics-policy/insights/uk-economic-outlook.html). Those at a higher risk were workers in wholesale and retailing – a sector that employs 2.9 million people in the UK, as well as 1.1million jobs in administrative and support services. But where is this information coming from?

There is no dispute that automation and artificial intelligence are having an important impact on our economy. However, the impact is far more gradual and limited than people are suggesting.

In 2015, a study by Guy Michaels and George Graetz (https://voxeu.org/article/robots-productivity-and-jobs) looked at the impact of robots in manufacturing, agriculture and utilities across 17 countries. They found that the robots did reduce the hours of lower-skilled workers although they didn’t decrease the total hours worked by humans, and in fact, they boosted wages. In other words, automation may have an affect on the kind of work humans do, but it’s unlikely that they will push humans out of work completely.

Even for retail and transportation jobs, where automation is likely to have a huge impact, the job-loss numbers are less scary than many headlines suggest. A recent report by Goldman Sachs predicted that autonomous cars could ultimately take away 300,000 driving jobs a year. However, this won’t happen for another 25 years, which is more than enough time for the economy to adapt to these changes.

Meanwhile, another study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that 9% of jobs across 21 different countries are under serious threat from automation. While these are still significant numbers, they are nowhere near the apocalyptic ones the headlines suggest.

On closer examination of reports, predictions tend to assume if a job can be automated, it will be fully automated soon enough – which overestimates both the pace and the completeness of current automation. However, history has proven that this is not certain.

Take the humble ATM, for example, a machine that was designed to replace human labour. It was first introduced around 1970, but was adopted globally in the late 1990s. Despite intentions to replace bank tellers, their numbers actually rose between 2000 and 2010 because ATMs made it cheaper to open more branches across the country. More branches equaled more bank tellers.

Therefore, instead of fearing our replacements, robotics and artificial intelligence can be used as a tool to improve the efficiency of our work and help us keep up with increasing demands. For example, you wouldn’t go back to using a typewriter now you know the speed at which a computer can get written tasks done. Things need to evolve and move forward to create success and opportunity.

One business embracing technological advancements is IScreenYouScreen, a revolutionary screening software. For years, reference checking has been seen as a difficult and time-consuming task but IScreenYouScreen looks to eliminate the time, cost and difficult of screening your employees.

This simple software automatically generates reference requests and letter templates to aid your HR department, keeping them employed but freeing their time to be productive in other areas too.

For those early technological advancements like automation softwares, we can learn to take advantages of their capabilities for our own benefit. However, with a fully-fledged takeover very far off, the truths about robotic automation should bring peace of mind to workers and businesses. After all, companies are investing little in new technology and the economy is growing slowing, meaning we aren’t about to face robots in the workplace anytime soon.