Pew Research asked the experts that question in its latest report on the future of technology, "AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs," and found opinions split nearly down the middle. Forty-eight percent said they feared robots and technology would displace more jobs than they creates by 2025, while 52 percent said that wouldn't be the case.
"My observation of advances in automation has been that they change jobs, but they don't reduce them," said Fred Baker, an Internet pioneer. "A car that can guide itself on a striped street has more difficulty with an unstriped street, for example, and any automated system can handle events that it is designed for, but not events (such as a child chasing a ball into a street) for which it is not designed. Yes, I expect a lot of change. I don't think the human race can retire en masse by 2025."
With a more pessimisstic view there's this thought from Robert Cannon, an Internet law and policy expert: "Everything that can be automated will be automated. Non-skilled jobs lacking in 'human contribution' will be replaced by automation when the economics are favorable. At the hardware store, the guy who used to cut keys has been replaced by a robot. In the law office, the clerks who used to prepare discovery have been replaced by software. IBM Watson is replacing researchers by reading every report ever written anywhere. This begs the question: What can the human contribute? The short answer is that if the job is one where that question cannot be answered positively, that job is not likely to exist."
Yikes. But there is some agreement in the report, mostly the need for more education and a changing idea of work.
JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, sums it up this way: "The very nature of work will have changed radically by 2025, but only in economies that have chosen to invest in education, technology and related infrastructure. Some classes of jobs will be handed over to the 'immigrants' of AI and robotics, but mroe will have been generated in creative and curating activities as demand for their services grows exponentially."
That's just a sampling of the full report packed with opinions from nearly 2,000 experts. The thought of a robot workforce might feel a little bit like the Jetsons, but then again, we live in a world where there's very real talk about driverless cars.
(Photo above from the Associated Press: The iCub robot tries to catch a ball at the Innorobo European summit, an event dedicated to service robotics industry.)