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Invasion? Takeover? Opportunity? What the robots mean for jobs

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Invasion. Takeover. These are the kind of words that have been bandied about in news headlines about robotics and artificial intelligence in the last few years. The coverage has been almost relentlessly negative, focusing on the threat to jobs, squeezing out the human component. While such potential is there, if robotics and AI do become a threat, then we believe this would be a threat of society’s own choosing.

The market impact of robotics and autonomous systems is estimated to be US$9.8 to US$19.3 trillion a year by 2025, but a recent report from the Sutton Trust stressed concerns that this could lead to a two-tier society with:

An elite high-skilled group dominating the higher echelon of society and a lower-skilled, low-income group with limited prospects of up-skilling and hence upward mobility, resulting in a broken social ladder.

Technical innovation has always had an impact on the status quo and stirred fears of what change might bring. Currently the fear is that the owners of the means of production will become rich, while other will see their jobs and livelihoods taken by robots.

Image: Citi

Living in a connected era

The revolution in robotics and autonomous systems has already begun. We live in a connected era where affordable technology interacts with us and with other natural and physical assets in our environment, turning data into information for a global audience.

AI has the ability to bring expert knowledge to the lay person remotely, that is, anywhere in the world, and support them in their endeavours like a virtual mentor, customising information in a useable format they can engage with. And by giving people this knowledge it offers unprecedented opportunities ranging from garden shed innovators gaining access to manufacturing processes which would previously been beyond their reach, to the potential for wealth creation in countries that are most in need of it.

For example, AI is helping communities in developing nations implement local renewable energy systems by providing intelligent automation and monitoring – almost like an online “doctor”, making sure the system is “healthy” and working properly. This means communities not only gain access to affordable and sustainable energy but can also engage in trading of any surplus energy to other consumers or utility companies.

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