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Has the robot revolution been exaggerated?

Robot revolution

It's been predicted that a "robot revolution" will transform life as we know it. From healthcare to manufacturing, many experts believe that the growth of artificial intelligence will see robots able to complete many of the tasks performed by humans now.

Research conducted by Oxford University, cited in a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, estimated that the robot revolution could leave up to 35 per cent of all workers in the UK and 47 per cent of those in the US at risk of losing their job in the next 20 years.

As with many elements of business, it's expected that those in the lowest-paid roles will be hit first and probably suffer the largest impact overall. Machines are already being used in many areas of manufacturing and assembly, and this could be a key place where companies look to expand their use of artificial intelligence.

However, eventually, there are concerns that it will impact jobs at every level. It's expected that machines will be able to more accurately diagnose and treat people with medical conditions, while software could replace the role of many accountants and banking experts in the future.

In the UK, a report from the Science and Technology Committee found there was no strategy in place for professionals to develop new skills to retain their jobs as the use of automation and artificial intelligence grows.

The committee argued that governments need to do more to address the social and ethical problems posed by this scenario.
The Bank of England has predicted that more than 80 million American and 15 million British jobs over the next 10 to 20 years could be lost to machines, CNN Money reports. This accounts for around half of the workforce in each country.

“These machines are different,” the bank’s chief economist Andy Haldane said. “Unlike in the past, they have the potential to substitute for human brains as well as hands.”

However, although there are many concerns about the problems that could arise as a result of the robot revolution, will it really cause nearly half of workers in the US job insecurity?

A new report from UBS, published in the Financial Times, suggests that the sheer scale of the robot revolution may have been exaggerated.

It states that the rate at which algorithms and robotics are advancing, and that many economies will soon rely on artificial intelligence, is based on opinion rather than fact. At the moment, the report says, there's no evidence to indicate that anything like the scale of job loss predicted will happen in the near future.

In addition, it says there's been little development of new and innovative manufacturing techniques in developed markets.
The report reads: "We also don’t find clues of items being made by robots at such a scale that it is shutting down factories and killing exports in EM."

It adds that items needed in the US and the Western World are still being shipped from the emerging world rather than being produced by machines at home. The report also suggests that the growth of 3D printing will be slower than expected.

However, opinions championed by entrepreneur Zoltan Istvan suggest that the robot revolution could make it very difficult for capitalism to survive.

Writing for Tech Crunch, Mr Istvan points out how driverless vehicles are already being trialled by some companies and, with more than three million truck drivers in the US alone, this could have a very real impact.

These will be jobs that won't be regained and could lead to a high number of people being unemployed and relying on the state for financial support. Instead he favours a Universal Basic Income as one of the ways that robots could replace humans but not "leave the world poor".

But with so much up for speculation, how can anyone predict what the robot revolution will really mean for business, economics and society as a whole? The truth is no one really knows exactly what will happen if machines replace humans in the future.

The UBS report says that the future of technology and its impact on the world of business is promising, but not just around the corner like some experts have warned.

With many signs suggesting that the robotic revolution may not have the impact on this generation as expected, it's good news for businesses and professionals alike. However, staying abreast of technological advances and trends is likely to grow in importance as the industry evolves and new innovation is brought into practice.