I’ve blogged before about the job destroying impact of automation and robotics. Once a machine can do a job, it’s gone. Peter Coy of Bloomberg has a different take. He believes humans and robots will work together in a future society. Robots will do work that is rote and mindless. Humans will perform tasks that require creativity and emotional response.
Hopefully Coy is right, but I’m more pessimistic. Coy talks about the improvements in voice recognition software. How many phone sales and customer service jobs have been lost because of this innovation? How many more will be lost in the future? Similarly cloud storage is enabling companies to cut staff that manages network and IT support functions. Driverless vehicles, when they are perfected (not if), will push many workers out of a job.
I hope the optimists like Coy and many smiling futurists are right in predicting work will become more creative in the age of robots. I’m less sanguine. As Coy states, too many jobs involve rote tasks that can be automated. I grew up near the steel mills in Cleveland. Within ten years, 4 steel mills were closed because European competitors sold cheaper, higher quality steel produced with automated functions. The city was devastated and has never fully recovered. That was industrial automation. Now the service industry and professional services are being automated. What sane employer will pay an employer if she can invest in and profit from a much cheaper, more efficient robot?