Americans Anxious That Robots Will Take Their Jobs

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One of the nation’s leading research firms, the Pew Research Center, released the results of a study called “Automation in Everyday Life.” Among the conclusions is that a large number of people think robots will make it more difficult to find jobs. Many respondents also said legislation may be the only way to protect jobs threatened by technology.

A number of other experts already have said the automation trend will hurt the employment market, especially among jobs that require few skills. Retail jobs, bank tellers and low-level factory work are among the jobs most likely to be replaced by robot-like devices. In many cases, this process has begun.

Pew found:

The public also expresses a number of concerns when asked about the likely outcomes they anticipate from these technological developments. For instance, 76% of Americans expect that economic inequality will become much worse if robots and computers are able to perform many of the jobs that are currently done by humans. A similar share (75%) anticipates that the economy will not create many new, better-paying jobs for humans if this scenario becomes a reality. And 64% expect that people will have a hard time finding things to do with their lives if forced to compete with advanced robots and computers for jobs.

Such a level of pessimism about employment opportunities was the likely reason many people would like regulation to stem the advance of technology in the workplace:

Along with these concerns, the public generally responds favorably to policies that would limit the use of these technologies to specific situations or that would bring human beings more fully into their operations. In the event that robots and computers become capable of doing many human jobs, for example, 85% of Americans are in favor of limiting machines to performing primarily those jobs that are dangerous or unhealthy for humans.

Put another way, legislation may be the sole reason huge numbers of people may keep jobs that might be replaced by technology. That might put the brakes on one of the largest advances in workforce productivity, but it is hard to identify another way that could happen.