Saturday, May 26, 2018
Business

Experts vary on future impact of robots on labor force

WASHINGTON — In 2025, self-driving cars could be the norm, people could have more leisure time and goods could become cheaper. Or there could be chronic unemployment, an even wider income gap, human interaction could become a luxury and the wealthy could live in walled cities with robots serving as labor.

Or very little could change.

A survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center's Internet Project and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center found when asked about the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs, nearly 1,900 experts and other respondents were divided over what to expect 11 years from now.

Forty-eight percent said robots would kill more jobs than they create, and 52 percent said technology will create more jobs than it destroys.

Respondents also varied widely when asked to elaborate on their expectations of jobs in the next decade. Some said self-driving cars would be common, eliminating taxi and long-haul truck drivers. Some said we should expect the wealthy to live in seclusion, using robot labor. Others were more conservative, cautioning that technology never moves as quickly as people expect and humans aren't so easily replaceable.

"We consistently underestimate the intelligence and complexity of human beings," said Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, who recalls that 40 years ago, people said advances in computer-coding language were going to kill programming jobs.

Even as technology removed jobs such as secretaries and operators, it created brand new jobs, including Web marketing, Grudin said.

Respondents offered a few theories about what might happen if artificial intelligence takes over some positions and fewer jobs are created.

Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, foresees chronic mass unemployment with the wealthy living in "walled cities, with robots providing the labor."

Some respondents see people returning to small-scale, handmade production and an appreciation would grow for products with the "human touch." Others thought people could also face abundant leisure, allowing them to pursue their personal interests.

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