Do You Think Robots Are the Cause of Unemployment?

One of the knocks against technology is that it’s taking jobs away from people. The thought process goes that the more robots that are deployed with automation, the more people end up getting pushed out. But is that really how it works?

We asked our writers, “Do you think robots are the cause of unemployment?”

Phil says somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Robots don’t take jobs; people who save money by using robots do.” He adds that employers prefer robots as they work all day, don’t need breaks, and never complain. He sees robots “as a positive thing (doing jobs humans either prefer not to or can’t do), but replacing humans just as a cost-saving measure is wrong.”

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Alex believes that while a job in an auto factory might go to a robot, history says the total number of jobs don’t decrease. “Jobs change, but they don’t disappear.” He feels this could be a “unique inflection point,” realizing that we could get to a point where there is so much more automation that there are going to be fewer jobs in the future. For that reason, he thinks “we’ll need to implement some kind of universal basic income plan in order to support the people who are out of work through no fault of their own.”

Simon notes that robots performing manual labor cuts down on the number of jobs that are needed, “but at the end of the day, it’s the employers at the top of the chain who make the decision to deploy robots.” He also notes that all companies won’t be able to afford to hire robots, so that might have an impact on it as well.

Damien feels the takeover by robots is inevitable because it’s cheaper labor, is more efficient, and the robots can work non-stop for 24 hours a day throughout the week. Instead of worrying about it, he feels we should be trying to figure out “how to upgrade ourselves to do jobs that cannot be replaced by robots,” such as programming, repair, and maintenance of the robots.

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Whit it’s true that robotics and automation are changing the way many businesses operate, Ryan doesn’t think we can blame progress for increasing the rate of unemployment. He thinks unemployment is caused by “a lack of understanding and stubborn unwillingness to accept change.” He feels politicians and other leaders should be preparing workers for the reality of the changing workforce, and students need to be aware of the changes as well and plan their future accordingly. “The more we look to the past to solve the employment problems of today, the more we miss the opportunities of tomorrow.”

I think if anything it’s not necessarily robots but technology as a whole that’s forcing changes upon the workforce, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just as Damien said, instead of grousing about it, we should be focusing on what jobs we can do that won’t be eliminated, as surely as much as technology may be shutting down some jobs, it’s certainly opening up others instead.

What are your feelings about the future of the workforce? Are robots taking over and forcing more people to be out of work, or is it just the evolution of jobs and that they’re just changing, neither for better or for worse? Do you think robots are the cause of unemployment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

8 comments

  1. It is the employers that are trying to maximize the bottom line that are causing unemployment.

    Robots are the perfect workers until they, too, form a union or join human unions. :-)

  2. Robots partly destroy unskilled jobs and some skilled jobs like production welding.
    But so has globalisation killed jobs. Production in India and China are much cheaper than in the West – look at Apple!
    Taxes in Ireland, Production in China == fat profits for Apple.

  3. There is nothing wrong with displacing humans with robots but if the wealth it generates is not redistributed, there won’t be anyone to buy the products that they make, so we need a ‘new deal’ like was needed at the time of the automobile revolution, when Ford decided he’d have to pay his workers better and make cars affordable or else no one would buy them.

    What bothers me the most with the scenario that has been developing over the past 30 years with the rise of neoliberalism, is that our ‘leaders’ seem for the most part inclined towards a solution whereby the masses are driven towards war as a means of getting rid of those who have become redundant and work very hard, through the terror of constant surveillance and other police state measures (“you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide…. for now!) to silence those who see through their endgame.

    But if we all come to our senses it will be possible to make a smooth transition to a civilization where people become less numerous than today through natural reduction in the fertility rate and robots become our partners and possibly even our successors in many respects ;-)

    • Perfectly agree with Chris under every aspect. Moreover, being unemployed (I used to be a software programmer), is also partially due to the more and more autonomy that the ever increasing software sofistication has allowed. I’m in neat difficulty, and I sincerely wish myself, now re-enter the job “market”.

  4. Welcome to the industrial revolution 3.5, or maybe 4.2. I have trouble keeping track.
    Things change. Need skill sets change, people have to adapt.
    Companies don’t care about people, so the people who own the companies need to care about people.

    • “so the people who own the companies need to care about people.”
      They should but have they ever? It has always been about maximizing the bottom line without regards to how.

  5. Adding up to the comments so far, I think that, as probably the history has experienced, adding more automation always cancels many more jobs than it creates. Just to say random numbers, if a car factory cancels 1000 workers with 100 robots, then it need 10 robot engineer, 10 new robot software programmers and maintainers. If then tomorrow there will be 2 new robots that repair the existing 10 robots, we will cancel 4 robot software programmer and 4 maintainers, and we will employ 1 robot engineer, 1 (maybe existing) robot software programmer and 1 robot maintainer, and so on….And this goes hand in hand with the ever increasing hardware and software sofistication (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, Quantum computing to cite examples).

  6. I also wanted to add to my previous comment. The problem of increasing unemployment due to automation sums up with the increasing request of more and more skilled people in certain fields, but not all of us are born with the ability to be a scholar and to reach certain levels of education, everyone should be respected in regard to his/her potential.
    That’s why finding solutions to this problem need to be a political duty for the upcoming society.

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