We have all read articles about robots stealing our jobs. In the last few years, a lot of people have pooh-poohed the idea, pointing out that previous rounds of automation did not cause lasting unemployment. But are they right?
Will robots take our jobs? The truth is, no-one knows. Past rounds of automation were mostly mechanisation, with machines taking over muscle jobs. That wasn’t a long-term problem for humans, but the US horse population fell from 21.5 million in 1915 to 2 million today.
We are now seeing the start of cognitive automation, with self-driving cars just around the corner, along with automated check-outs, sophisticated bots in call centres and law firms, and so on.
We don’t foresee imminent widespread technological unemployment. But if the exponential improvement in computer technology continues (and even if it slows down and continues at a gentler rate) then a generation from now it may arise.
We do not know what will happen, so we should not be complacent: we should be thinking about and preparing for a range of scenarios. We believe that wonderful outcomes are possible, and the outcomes we get will depend partly on the policy decisions made in the next few years.
The following propositions are put forward by the Economic Singularity Foundation, a think tank and registered charity established to study this issue, and promote a more thoughtful debate.
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