Will machines replace people in the workplace? Are we creating our own destruction?

Date 13.11.2015

Dr ​​Scott Turner​, Associate Professor in Computing and Immersive Technologies, gives his view on machines replacing people at work…

“Some futurists such as Ray Kurzweil at Google (Devlin, 2015)  have been predicting robots will reach human levels of intelligence by 2029, raising concerns about job losses. This time the concerns have shifted a little from where traditionally machines have replaced people in jobs – the dangerous and the dull roles – to more white-collared roles such as analytical jobs, journalism and online marketing. In 2011 (Gabbatt, 2011) Watson, an artificial intelligence system developed by IBM, won on the games shown Jeopardy! then went on to be used for medical diagnostic use.

Before we start imagining the apocalyptic visions of The Matrix and Terminator; this is not new. Artificial Intelligences (AI) techniques are widely used now. Credit card companies use AI based technologies to detect potential fraudulent spending patterns, there is a long history of AI being used to dig into medical data to gain new insights and Amazon’s recommendations are based around AI techniques.

Potential jobs losses due to new technologies are not new news. One example is the typist pool, another web-developers. In terms of job losses, due to AI, there is not a consensus (Elkins, 2014) for example believes there will be a 30 per cent loss in jobs, other experts suggest a zero net-loss, and others even an increase in new roles (for humans). Robots in the care industry is a potential growth area: robots do not replace carers, instead acting as assistants. These ‘social robots’ act as companions, for example two robots for the home Buddy (Indiegogo, 2015) and JIBO (JIBO, 2015).

Countries such as Germany and USA are taking steps to increase their industrial competitiveness, via Industry 4.0 (Deloitte, 2014), which is based around taking measures that integrating AI and communications into their production and logistics chain.  These technologies are disruptive but there is no evidence, yet, that they will bring about our destruction but we do need to manage their introduction.”