Why We Don’t Know How Robots Will Affect Employment

Technology changes the way that humans work. This has been true throughout history. We first fashioned stone tools to take down trees. Next, we forged axes, and eventually we started gassing up our chainsaws. Today, we can sit comfortably in forest harvesters that topple trees in the blink of an eye. Technology makes work faster, easier, safer, and more efficient. We know that automation has drastically changed employment, and we know that automation will continue to do so. However, we can’t know exactly how robots will affect employment.

Robots and employment is a hot topic

The effect of robots and automation on human workers is a popular topic of debate. Some say robots will eliminate the need for human workers while others suggest that automation will lead to new types of work.

History shows us that while automation can eliminate certain jobs, it doesn’t lead to an unemployable human race. It instead moves workers around, and creates new jobs. Many suggest that humans will always find ways to work, and many future jobs don’t exist yet.

However, some say that we’re in a new stage in history, and previous  changes in technology do not accurately reflect how our current level of technology will shape human employment.

Different researchers, marketing firms, universities, and data analysis groups have their own data-driven predictions on what will happen to the human worker. You can find a plethora of percentages and statistics stating which jobs will disappear, or which jobs might be created.

Imagining the unimaginable

You don’t know what you don’t know — as painfully obvious and pseudo-intellectual as it sounds, there’s some deeper truth to this sentiment. Of course, you can’t know what’s in someone’s pocket. However, this isn’t the type of  unknowing that limits speculation about robots and future employment.

You also can’t know something for which you have no frame of reference.

Try picture a color that doesn’t exist. Not a new or unique shade of an existing color, but one which does not resemble any other color that you know. You can’t get a mental image of this color because every color that you can think of has some tinge or hue of a known color.

While not quite as extreme, this same principle translates to future jobs that do not yet exist.

A recent article from Digital Trends explored possible jobs that could exist in the future that do not currently exist. The thought of being a professional augmented reality architect or an urban farmer certainly sounds cool and futuristic, but while it’s fun to speculate and predict new professions, these are educated guesses at best. Even data-driven forecasts regarding the future job market and prophesies about the end of certain occupations, however well informed they may be, are still just conjecture.

We can’t know for sure which jobs will cease to exist, or which jobs will be created through automation, but there are some certainties. For example, our increasing dependence on automation, robots, and machinery.

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