As technology has become all the more prevalent in modern society, its importance has been brought into question. The list of those being questioned has increased across the last few decades, whether that’s wearable tech or augmented reality. But these various inventions are taking the focus away from a classic invention – robots.
Robots have been a cause of debate for generations now. In science-fiction, their depiction ranges from a loving friend to an emotionless foe. In the real world, however, their presence is still something we take for granted. So where do they stand in the Digital Age? Are they a threat to job security, amongst other things?
Jeremy Rifkin, in his book The End of Work, discussed Europe’s uncertain future in regards to the apparent ‘disappearance’ of its mass labour. In his discussion and analysis of the situation, he concluded: “In reality, the work isn’t going to the Chinese – it’s going to the robots”. Considering the article has been cited 2725 times on Google Scholar, it seems the capitalist perspective on machines being ‘job-takers’ is a popular one.
But it shouldn’t be the go-to answer, or even be the only piece of technology to have the finger pointed at it. In a recent video on The Guardian, it appears ‘the internet is after your job, too’. And it’s not just working class jobs that are at risk, but middle-class jobs. Teachers, lawyers and even doctors could be replaced by various apps and services that vouch to do the same task as these respected professions already do.
What’s more, robots arguably aren’t the main reason for job redundancies, but exist as part of the technological natural selection of the job world that has happened across the years. The visit to the local library has slowly been replaced by the ability to download millions of books onto a Kindle. The same can be said for the traditional travel agents, which is steadily becoming obsolete thanks to online travel booking.
Of course, the main issue at hand is that there isn’t one type of ‘robot’. We often like to think of them as quirky factory gadgets, or mimicries of humanity, such as Google’s ‘Atlas’ robot.
But when it comes back to this concern of job security, the culprits are often AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics. Much to the disappointment of industrial sceptics, they have their benefits. Recent research conducted by the Pew Research Centre, appropriately titled ‘AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs’, shows that the reasons to be hopeful when it comes to robotics and the future of jobs outweigh the reasons to be concerned. A standout reason is this:
“Ultimately, we as a society control our own destiny through the choices we make.”
Whatever the fate of robots is, it’s safe to say that their future is uncertain, particularly that of artificial intelligence. If they pose too much of a threat to society, or can’t be considered to be a face for social change, then the off button is never far from reach.