People Exaggerate Robot Job Takeover Rates

A new study on how fast robots are taking over human jibs has discovered something new — not about robots, but about people.

People exaggerate.

Here are the facts from the survey:

  • 14% of respondents said they had actually lost their jobs to a robot.
  • Those who had lost their jobs said that estimated that 47% of all jobs have been taken over by robots.
  • Those who had not lost their jobs (the remaining 86%) estimated that 29% of workers had lost their jobs to robots.

“Those who hadn’t lost jobs overestimated by about double,” researchers summed it up, “and those who had lost jobs overestimated by about three times.”

Where did the numbers come from?

Before we conclude that people just need to chill out, we should note that the figure of 47% did not come entirely from people’s imaginations.

An Oxford study from 2013 claimed that 47% of human jobs were ripe for robot takeover.

A ZEW Mannheim study came up with 9%, a lower figure than the Brigham Young survey found. But a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development from 2018 came up with 14% — spot on compared with the BYU survey.

Even if we imagine that the BYU survey was giving those figures as averages of estimates, the coincidence is noticeable. It is possible that many of the 2,000 people surveyed were familiar with the studies and the headline-grabbing numbers had lodged in their memories, influencing their estimates.

The bottom line

It’s evident that people overestimate the effects of automation on job loss. It makes sense that people who have lost their jobs to a robot feel that this happens more than people who have not had that experience.

Yet it’s also clear from many different sources of information that people are quitting their jobs and that there is a real labor shortage. It makes sense that increasing numbers of robot workers are a response to the shortage of human workers, as well as a response to the need to increase wages to keep up with the supply and demand issues.

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