Don't clear out your cubicle for a robot just yet

Robots will take some jobs, create others and possibly transform yours

Take a breath because the future might not be as bleak as you expect.

A report from Forrester Research predicts that artificial intelligence systems, which include robots, automation, smart machines and machine learning systems, will replace 7% of U.S. jobs by 2025. That’s a net reduction because the analyst firm predicts that technology will replace 16% of U.S. jobs but will create the equivalent of another 9%, leaving a 7% total reduction.

These numbers might reinforce people’s concerns that businesses will be quick to replace people, who need vacation time and pricey health care, with robots.

However, while a 7% job reduction doesn’t sound good for working Americans, there’s another side to this story.

Forrester analysts Craig LeClair and J.P. Gownder note in the study, which was released Wednesday, that robotics will replace some human workers in their jobs, but technology will also create new, more interesting jobs for people.

Forrester said 13.9 million new U.S. jobs will be created because of smart technology within the next nine years.

“The cognitive era will create new jobs, such as robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators,” the analysts wrote. “But the transformation of existing jobs resulting from re-engineering a process to use cognitive support -- such as turning low-value data entry work to higher-level analyst or customer-oriented roles -- will be even more dramatic.”

The analysts pointed out, for example, that IBM’s Watson cognitive platform can reduce the amount of time that data analysts spend crunching numbers. That means those data scientists should have more time to focus on higher-value tasks, such as interpreting results.

Eliminating mundane tasks and giving people more interesting work, should improve both morale and worker retention, according to Forrester.

The report also notes that using robotics to handle more base jobs will give human employees more time to work directly with customers, who are increasingly becoming overwhelmed with information from apps, social media, comparison shopping sites and email campaigns.

“Cubicle-bound workers will continue to lose jobs to cognitive systems, albeit at a slower rate than some alarmists believe,” LeClair and Gownder said. “But we found that the changing nature of jobs will make more of an impact than job loss.”

So what jobs are expected to be the first to be replaced?

According to Forrester, office and administrative support staff will be the “most rapidly disrupted,” with the largest loss in this job category coming between 2016 and 2020.

Sales and related jobs also will be affected.

However, professional jobs that require the biggest knowledge bases or creative thinking, such as physicians and people working in finance and management, won't be as hard hit.

The Forrester study backs up what some computer scientists and artificial intelligence researchers have been saying about greater cooperation between people and robots. With the advance of smart systems and robotics, machines some day may help humans do their jobs more easily and better.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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