Automation to replace people in job market, researchers say

By Richard Pellegrino

The Razorback Reporter

Nearly one-half of technology experts think that advances in technology will have displaced more jobs than they have created within the next 10 years, according to a Pew Research Center canvass of about 2,000 experts.

Automation soon will replace jobs done by workers ranging from bank tellers to truck and taxi drivers, and the shift in the makeup of the workforce will greatly affect college-age men and women, said Vance Clement, the committee chairman of the Arkansas Academy of Industrial Engineering.

Automation includes things beyond industrial robots, and spills into the fields of accounting and management through software programs that might make those jobs “obsolete in the future,” said junior accounting student Ann McKay, who said she hopes to be a certified public accountant.

“It’s certainly going to have a profound effect on the economy and on the structure of labor, but whether it will lay off people, or whether it will actually open up new avenues and new kinds of jobs and new sources of wealth is something that no one really knows,” economics professor Raja Kali said.

Accounting students are taught that computer programs are there to help them, but they are not a perfect solution, McKay said.

“A computer could make a mistake that a human could catch,” she said.

We’ve been experiencing technological change, such as the dishwasher, for a long time, Kali said, and it has actually led to greater participation in labor force and in productivity.

Robots are nothing new in the industrial or automotive world, but they have recently branched into other fields, such as medicine.

“They were taking away portions of the job of an orthopedic surgeon, which is pretty amazing in itself,” said Clement, who worked for a company that designed surgical robots to assist doctors as they perform hip replacements.

Robots might become a pervasive part of the labor force, but they won’t fare well as doctors or police officers because of the “core human features or traits that we have today that are going to be necessary in the future that is not going to be taken over by robots,” Clement said.

Six of the 10 largest occupations detailed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report, are on the list of jobs that could be replaced by automation. These include retail sales clerks, cashiers, office workers, customer service representatives, freight movers, and administrative assistants.

In September 2014, Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, released a YouTube video introducing a self-driving 18-wheeler controlled by a “highway pilot,” which operates similarly to the autopilot system of an airplane.

Although the video shows the truck navigating the highway successfully, even moving over for stopped emergency vehicles, company officials said, “In no way will the highway pilot replace the driver.”

The concept vehicle gives a technologically accurate idea about the future of commercial trucking, according to the video.

“We’re starting to see pieces of jobs that are being chipped away at over time, and that is going to make a huge difference in our economy going forward,” Clement said.

Google engineers have been working on self-driving cars since 2009, and have developed prototypes that have traveled more than 1 million miles, according to Google’s website.

Uber executives also have moved toward self-driving cars, with the company hiring 40 autonomous car experts from the top-ranked robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University, according to a 2015 article published by Business Insider.

The fact that robots may take over many jobs might not necessarily mean that people are going to have to scrape by because certain types of jobs are gone, Kali said.

There has been a race between technology and education, and education has been able to keep up, but many people in the workforce may not have time to adapt their skills to be “in sync with the new types of technologies that come to the floor with robotics,” Kali said.