Robots Aren't Taking Our Jobs – So Let's Stop Dramatising

We need to stop framing technological advancement as a doomsday opus, fit to be serialised by Netflix.
Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

The tried-and-tested adverting adage familiar to all is that sex sells. But in a world gripped by the prospect of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and machines knowing more about our most intimate secrets than we do, I’d lobby for a change in phrasing: Robots sell, especially the killer kind.

A dystopian headline about non-humans systematically wiping out our jobs, is just about every news editor’s dream. Plaster it at the top of a website or on the front of a paper in a bold, intimidating font – preferably above an image of The Terminator – and your traffic and circulation numbers are guaranteed a decent bump. It’s clickbait of the highest calibre, and because it’s about something that really matters (our livelihoods, that is) it’s not even particularly frowned upon.

So it’s with a hearty portion of relief that research was published this week which might just go some way towards serving up a dose of much-needed reality. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development produced a 38-page report which spells out - with solid evidence and academic rigour - that the rise of AI will have a significant and widespread impact on the workplace, and that employers must adapt and adjust to leverage the power of technology to their advantage. So far so predictable, but the study also finds that AI and automation (“robots”, in broadsheet parlance) will ultimately create more high-quality, rewarding jobs than it will destroy.

We (particularly we journalists!) have a duty to stop needlessly dramatising the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to stop framing technological advancement as a doomsday opus, fit to be serialised by Netflix. In fact, one of the things we should be trying to avoid at all costs, is dressing it up as something to be afraid of. We should be doing exactly the opposite: portraying it as an inevitable development to be embraced - something that can be leveraged to achieve progress and fulfilment. By demonising it we’re giving it a life of its own - humanising it, if you will - and crassly drawing battle lines right through the centre of the workforce as we know it. It’s us against them. We’re going to fight them but we’ll probably lose.

There is no battle. The robots aren’t out to get us. Topically, it’s fake news.

The CIPD’s research of almost 760 employers across the UK, found that almost a third of all organisations had invested in AI and automation over the past five years. Some 44% of employers who had introduced AI and automation into their work practices said that the jobs most affected by the new technology had actually become more secure. Only 18% said that they had become less secure. What’s more, two in five employers reported pay increases for the roles believed to be most affected by the implementation of AI. The most common scenario, the research found, was for pay to remain unaffected.

Technology can hurt if we don’t know how to handle it. It’s clear that employers need to engage deeply with any new system, in order to fully understand the potential risks and benefits it brings with it. There are legitimate concerns that the effects of automation on the lowest skilled jobs could - even is - accentuating the gender pay gap. And there are fears that AI - if not implemented responsibly - will perpetuate bias and facilitate discrimination. But none of these are reasons to broadcast a chronic threat to the security of global jobs as we know them. Find your clickbait elsewhere. The machines are here to stay and it’s not such a bad thing. In the name of reason, logic and all things sensible, the image of the killer robot mutiny has timed out.


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