Should we fear the rise of the robots?

Editor

If you’re paid less than £30,000 a year then it might be time to start looking nervously over your shoulder, because according to a new report out this week you could soon be replaced by a robot.

The research, carried out by Deloitte and the university of Oxford, warns that one in three existing UK jobs are at risk of replacement by technology in the next 20 years.

The report claims that low paid repetitive jobs are most at risk, whilst higher skilled workers are least likely to feel the cold metallic tap of a robot finger on their shoulders any time soon. It also warns that unless businesses start planning now, growing levels of automation could lead to mass unemployment and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Interestingly, in London, where salaries are higher, the risk is slightly lower. And whilst few would deny that there’s something rather appealing about replacing the capital’s much maligned bankers with intelligent automatons programmed to behave ethically at all times, the kind of high salaried jobs found in the city are, says the report, relatively safe. You’ll be relieved to learn that jobs in the far nobler engineering and science sectors are also considered low risk.

Throughout the national press, there’s been a predictably hysterical, even apocalyptic, reaction to the research (and who can blame them? We all enjoy a good “robots taking over the world” story right?).

But whilst there are legitimate concerns here, and there’s little doubt that rising levels of automation will render more and more human roles redundant, is the report telling us anything we didn’t know already? And should we really be concerned?

Since the dawn of automation people have voiced fears that the robots will do us all out of a job, and whilst it’s certainly true that manufacturing, for instance – which has enjoyed the benefits of automation perhaps more than any industry – employs fewer people than it once did, it is also more profitable and productive and offers better salaries than it used to. Indeed, in a robot free society there might be more jobs, but they’ll be dirty, dangerous and poorly paid.

We have little choice but to continue to embrace the rise of automation and make sure that we use it as an opportunity, not to reduce our labour costs, but to free up our workforce to develop the skills and expertise that will help the UK compete with the best around the world.

Providing businesses work hard now to anticipate the impact of technological progress on the labour market we really have nothing to fear from the rise of the machines.

Jon Excell is away. This blog piece was generated by Journobot 2000.