Nationally and internationally a number of efforts are underway to develop governance frameworks for AI and robotics. Within the UK, an initiative by the Royal Society and the British Academy is considering governance of data, and the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee (STC) has called for a Commission on the ethical and societal impacts of AI . There is also the European Parliament’s recent effort to develop civil law rules for robotics. Governance and regulation will need to be international if it is to be effective and not simply promote competitive advantages for less regulated countries. Leadership in this field include: the IEEE, World Economic Forum, and the Foundation for Responsible Robotics.
(3) Robots are taking our jobs. Are the fears justified?
There are certainly some harbingers of bad news. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the impact of increased usage of industrial robots on US local labour markets from 1990 to 2007 and found that there were “large and robust negative effects of robots on employment and wages across commuting zones.” According to the historical data, jobs lost to robots have not been adequately replaced by new opportunities brought by robots, an argument technologists often fall back on.
Those findings are not predictive and should be taken in proper context — the current boom in robotics largely started after 2007, and it’s difficult to correlate the impact of robots on employment in industries as disparate as manufacturing and healthcare.
But the fears are real enough that heavy hitters are taking note. Bill Gates has voiced support for a robot tax, for instance — a levy on the work robots do, which would replace income tax lost by the government when a robot takes human jobs. South Korea has come closest to that vision and appears ready to tax incentives for companies investing in automation. South Korea’s President is worried that higher unemployment in the robotic age will necessitate a robust welfare system, which is a huge problem since the government would be collecting less tax revenue to pay for such a system during an employment crisis.
A recent report by Price Waterhouse Cooper suggests that up to 38 percent of US jobs could be lost to automation by the early 2030s. “The risks appear highest in sectors such as transportation and storage (56%), manufacturing (46%) and wholesale and retail (44%), but lower in sectors like health and social work (17%).”
On the other hand, there’s a credible argument that automation has resulted in regional job losses, but net job increases. One proponent of this view is the trade association A3, which released a study that found that during non-recessionary periods going back to 1996, both general employment and robot shipments increased. “To us,” Jeff Burnstein, President of A3, said, “that means that robots weren’t killing jobs.”
A few years ago, the International Federation of Robotics issued a study that looked at robotics use in China, Japan, Brazil, and India. As robot use accelerated in those countries, unemployment fell.
IDC recently found that spending on robotics will reach US$135.4 billion by 2019, up from US$71 billion two years ago. According to the report, services such as training, deployment, integration, and consulting will account for US$32 billion of that, which accounts for a lot of new jobs.
Even the oft-cited PWC report isn’t all doom and gloom. Robots increase productivity, and productivity gains tend to generate wealth. Historically, that’s led to an increase in service sector jobs, which aren’t easy to automate.
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