Eilidh Glassey explores the reality of the future labour market with the current technological progression into artificial intelligence.


We have all seen those sci-fi films set in the future with flying cars and robots taking over the planet, which is still yet to come true. However, that time is approaching faster than you would think. Robots are currently being developed to have ‘artificial intelligence’ that could potentially dominate, making us the replaceable, inferior species. But what does this realistically mean for our future?


With technology advancing at its current rate, there is serious threat facing our jobs. It is predicted than over the next few decades robots will be able to do 45% of our jobs better than we can. We are reaching a new age in technology where machines will soon be able to display human characteristics; understanding, seeing, speaking, hearing and cognitive processing.


Cars and trucks have been developed to drive themselves, Siri will soon be able to be able to act as a customer service rep, shelf-stacking-bots can work the warehouse floor more productively than a human, and algorithms can write straightforward reports with only the input of the basic facts. None of these hi-tech machines will have to stop for lunch, take sick days, procrastinate on Facebook or make human errors because they stayed up late last night to watch the final episode of Breaking Bad in time with the US, thus saving employers large amounts of money.


The robot takeover, will however, not be limited to menial tasks and manual labour. What we call ‘middle-class white collar jobs’, which were never before under threat, are now being targeted by technological progression. Medical developments, for example, are starting to be used in surgery and there is advancement into a more accurate computerised stockbroker. With robots being developed to act almost as an educated human, any job that requires only knowledge or skill, not imagination or creativity, will soon be able to be done by robots. I’m so glad I’m spending four years of my life on a science degree then.


What does this mean for our purpose in the labour market? There have been technological scares similar to this in the past. Technological advancement in farming was rapid during the mid 1800’s. This however just created a shift in the labour market from farming to the factory work in the city. The same job-scare came about in the 80’s as computers had an important role in the workplace but people were needed to run and control these. Over the past couple of hundred years, with persistent technological advancement, employment rates have stayed relatively constant.


With this data it seems short-sighted to think that the job market will not just adapt to the situation. There are, however, arguments that we are near the end of advancement and our purpose will decrease. This is a rather morbid view where the world will actually regress, the rich company owners get richer and anybody below upper class will become poorer, creating a large income gap in society.


A more progressive view is that developments in the past have created jobs that would never even have been envisioned. You wouldn’t have found a Victorian boy dreaming of being a video-game designer, as the job had not yet been created. This is a cyclical idea that technological advancement takes away jobs involving difficult, mundane tasks, thus freeing up time for unimaginable, more creative and innovative thinking jobs with the new technology.


It’s unlikely that robots will be taking over the world anytime soon but it is quite clear that they will be infiltrated into our lives in the very near future. Whether this new advancement will affect our lives for better or worse is still up for discussion but hopefully, as we have done in the past, we will adapt to the new society they create. To be honest, a life with my very own personal robot so I don’t ever have to do chores or manual labour sounds perfect. As long as they do not develop a mind of their own or possess the characteristics of the terminator, I think we’ll be fine.


Eilidh Glassey


Image by littlelostrobot