Economy and finance The Robots are Coming, the Robots are Coming

The Robots are Coming, the Robots are Coming

Pew Research Findings from 2018


We are well down the path towards machine’s replacing human work. The robots are coming. In fact, we are now well down the path to having machine’s replacing humans in ways that leave the machine in charge. Canadians, like the public’s in many countries, well understand the trend even if they mostly see the downside risks.

Human have used tools since the earliest days. Hunters became better at survival when they moved beyond what they could accomplish with their own hands. As history has unfolded, our tools have advanced in terms of their capacity. Robots accelerated this by replacing humans on assembly lines. Automation was key to replacing humans. But today, AI and machine learning offer the opportunity for robots to do even more. It is about replacing more judgment-related tasks. The future of work is changing.

A Look at the Future of Robots and Work

More than 8 in 10 Canadians think that in 50 years robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans. Thirty-two per cent think this will definitely happen. This puts Canada among the most likely to believe in automation among the countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center. The United States, for example, is at 65% at least probably and only 15% who think it will definitely happen.

The 50 year time horizon is probably too long since the pace of change would suggest we are not that a far away. The time frame does ask the public to think ahead and imagine a different world. The fact that so many Canadians think it could happen might also mean they will be more prepared for it when it does happen. Certainly there is reason for concern.

Implications of Robots doing Human Work

There is unanimous support that the development would have negative implications. First, 80% think it would be harder for ordinary people to find work. Second, 79% think the gap between rich and poor would grow.
Notably, those with more education tend to discount the negative implications, especially with regard to the job prospects of ordinary people.

Education is a clear driver of the implications of robots doing human work

Perceptions of the economy are also key drivers. A point reinforced by the Pew Research Center. Those who think the economy is very bad are much more likely to think the gap between rich and poor will get worse. In fact, 90% of those who think the economy is very bad think this way. They also think that ordinary people will have a hard time finding jobs.

The public is divided about whether robots replacing humans would lead to better paying jobs and a more efficient economy. Interestingly Canadians are the most likely to think there will be more high paying jobs (47% compared wth 25% in the U.S.). Japan is the most likely to believe that the economy will be more efficient.

Implications of Robots and Automation

The question of the future of robots is not idle speculation. It is not just science fiction. As the results here show, there is an expectation it will occur coupled with negative implications that will be disproportionately born by some in society.

We are imaging a world that risks marginalizing key segments of the population. Any wonder that those who already feel that the economy has gotten worse are more likely to see the negative implications.

Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Survey 2018. Survey was conducted by telephone between May 23 and June 21, 2018. For the article published by the Pew Research Center click here.

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