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Robohub focus: Dealing with the ‘jobs’ question

April 15, 2013

For the next week, Robohub will host a special focus on robots and jobs, featuring original articles from leading experts in the fields of robotics and automation. The goal of the series is to explore the shifting employment landscape as robots become more prevalent in the workplace, and we’ve got a great lineup!

This post is part of Robohub’s Jobs Focus.

We’re in the midst of National Robotics Week, and roboticists all over the US are celebrating robotics research, development and education through hundreds of events and demonstrations at local libraries, universities, Block Parties and FIRST competitions. The point of National Robotics week is to celebrate, educate and inspire a new generation to pursue careers in robotics. But another key goal of the week is to advocate.

Advocating for cash is one part of the job, because R&D requires lots of it. And if you’re going to acquire cash from granting bodies or investors, you have to convince them that the work you are doing is important, that it’s going to solve a problem, and (if you’re a start-up) that it has commercial potential. And as robotic technologies move from research into commercial viability, advocating for robotics-friendly legislation becomes just as important: if laws and regulations prevent your product from reaching the market, it doesn’t matter how much cash you have.

 

Nymann Teknik arm, from Universal Robots.
Nymann Teknik arm, from Universal Robots.

So what does advocacy have to do with jobs? Plenty. The jobs issue is a visceral one. It hits us where it counts: how we earn, how we feed ourselves and our families, how we put a roof over our heads. It’s why employment is always a key issue in election politics – it’s a topic that impacts almost every voter of working age. ‘Robots and jobs’ has become a contentious issue that, like it or not, will determine the success or failure of many new robotics technologies, so it’s no great surprise that there are plenty of people who have something to say about it.

Here are the main points of view that have been entrenched and promoted:

  1. Robot replace human workers, and that is a bad thing; they are a ‘disruptive force’ that will cause irrevocable harm to our entire socioeconomic system. See 60 Minutes’ Are robots hurting job growth? and CNN World’s The jobless economy, and the Economists’ Robots don’t complain or die.
  2. Robots replace human workers, and that is a good thing; they will take over dull, dirty and dangerous jobs and leave us humans with more time to do interesting/productive work. See Andrew McAfee’s TED Talk, and Wired’s Better than human: Why robots will – and must – take our jobs.
  3. Robots don’t steal jobs, they create them; whether through ‘re-shoring’ or through the emergence of new robotics industries, there is tremendous job growth potential for economies that support robotic technologies. See Time’s Can robots bring back manufacturing jobs to the US? and Kuka’s infographic Robots and automation bring jobs back to the US.

To help us tease out the issues we are featuring a week’s worth of coverage on the topic from top experts in the field, including fact finding, analysis and opinion. Here’s a quick teaser of what to expect over the next week or so …

A look at the numbers:

A look at influencing factors:

Outlook:

And don’t forget:

Managing the ‘issue’ of robots and jobs is important to the success of businesses, research institutions and politicians alike, whether they are ‘for’ robots or ‘against’, so there is no doubt that you will continue to see headlines about robots and jobs for the foreseeable future, both in the mainstream media and here on Robohub. We hope you enjoy this focus series … feedback is welcome, so send us your comments!

See all the posts in Robohub’s Jobs Focus.

Hallie Siegel is Managing Editor at Robohub... read more

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