Robots not the equivalent of a human workforce yet

U.S. economist tells UBCO audience continuing advances in automation a slow process

The dire predictions of labour disruption and jobs being lost due to technology advancement is exaggerated, according to a leading U.S. economist.

Robert Atkinson said technology automation will replace some jobs but also create new career opportunities that presently don’t exist, but the idea of it quickly revolutionizing the labour workforce in North America is economic fearmongering.

Atkinson said while scientists and engineers talk about massive worker dislocation due to artificial intelligence and robotic automation, he remains skeptical of such bold predictions based on labour history dating back to the Industrial Revolution in Britain and job skill application realities.

“We have seen this before. Technological advancement brings predictions of massive upheaval in the workforce, particularly in the U.S., but it doesn’t end up happening that way,” Atkinson said.

“Robots simply can’t replace some jobs. You won’t see a robot out fighting a forest fire anytime soon. You won’t see a robotic model walking down the runway in New York or Paris. There are skill and judgment requirements that human beings bring to particular jobs which robots will never duplicate.”

He also cautioned that new technology takes times to work out the kinks and inefficiencies, saying new advancements don’t arrive in fully formed functionality.

RELATED: Automated vehicles could kill wide range of jobs

“As a leading expert in robotics at MIT has said, just because we developed the internal combustion engine doesn’t mean we will be traveling at warp speed next. Because we have developed technologies with artificial intelligence, it doesn’t mean machines capable of replicating everything human beings can do is just around the corner,” he said.

“That is not the case. The pace of change is always slow. The bottom line is the impacts will be manageable.”

He cited another example of Apple, started by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the late 1970s, which didn’t fully reach its impact until nearly three decades later.

“You can see that with the driver-less car prototypes now in development. That science is not very good right now. You wouldn’t want to put your child in the backseat of a driver-less car right now and go for a drive. That would be risky and dangerous. It will get better and safer but it will take awhile yet,” he said.

Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a public policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C., was one of the keynote speakers at the recent symposium called Humans, Machines and the Future of Work, hosted by UBC Okanagan.

Atkinson said automation should not be feared or stalled by governments under the guise of protecting existing jobs, as it will help increase stalled productivity overall in both the Canadian and U.S. economies.

RELATED: Millennials don’t deserve ‘lazy’ label

“It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why productivity has not increased. If you don’t have robust productivity growth, you can have a robust growth in standard of living or wages. That remains a big challenge given the demographic of baby boomers retiring and leaving the workforce,” he said.

Atkinson offered his advice for government policy makers, starting with don’t panic as Armageddon in the workforce due to automation is not on the immediate horizon.

“You also can’t slow down the rate of innovation through technology. You need automation to improve productivity as the population continues to age,” he said.

“Bill Gates has suggested imposing a tax on robotic job replacement to help retrain people who lose their job to automation but we feel that would be a major mistake. Anything that tempers the stimulation to the economy from automation won’t help raise productivity.”

He also said a universal income, where every adult is guaranteed an income regardless of whether they work or not, would create an enormous tax load on the economy without sound reasoning.

“This premise might work on the belief that a large group of people are suddenly going to become unemployed by technology and require support from the government. But my argument is that we are a long way from that ever happening,” Atkinson argued.

“There is no point in going down that road right now.”

RELATED: Fixing low incomes among family-class immigrants

Atkinson sees the biggest challenges that lie ahead for meeting future workforce demands lie in worker skill assessment and retraining, something he said governments have struggled in the U.S. and Canada to implement, and how students are prepared for job skill demands when graduating high school.

“There is a high level of digitization trend going forward with jobs today. The term you hear a lot today is double deep skills, meaning whether you have a job in marketing, accounting, engineering or graphic design, you not only require the skills to do those jobs but the digital competency to carry out those tasks using modern technology.

“If workers don’t have those digital capabilities, they will be in a harder position to get ahead or adapt to workforce changes.”



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

WATCH: City of West Kelowna opens up for public hearings

City staff have made sure residents keep their distance to minimize COVID-19 transmission

Peachland recovery task force proposes larger patios

Several initiatives proposed by the Peachland COVID-19 recovery task force will go to council tonight

Motorbike crash on Glenmore Road

Traffic is slow going on Glenmore Road headed north

Suspected social media accounts of accused Kelowna hamster torturer emerge

Leighton Allen Labute, 20, is facing six charges related to his alleged torture of a hamster

North Westside residents shocked at fire chief’s suspension

Communities association president said they don’t know why the suspension happened

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Fatal motorcycle crash on Highway 97 near Summerland

The incident involving a motorcycle happened just before 4 p.m.

Tagging Suicide Hill in Vernon in lieu of grad party?

City councillor pitches idea to revive old tradition amid COVID-19 pandemic

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

North Okanagan campers trashing rules

Campers still pitching tents, and leaving garbage, despite sites not being open until June 1

Most Read