Robot Workers will exacerbate income inequality, states report

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The common fear that technology will replace jobs is one that often arrives in waves. With the rise of robot workers and artificial intelligence, that conversation is here once again.

In the past year, we’ve seen politicians push for robots to replace human doctors. We’ve also seen robots replace human waiters… to mixed results. However, with a recession on the rise, robotics and AI may be relied on more than anticipated.

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But what happens to the humans who get replaced? This has been a common theme in science fiction, but it’s now becoming non-fiction, and a new study claims that income inequality is about to hit an all-time high.

Via MIT News, a new study co-authored by Acemoglu has detailed the rise of automation and how it affects real people. The study looks at automation over the past 40 years and how it has changed human life, and it shows a worrying path forward.

For example, the study explains that some of the most popular forms of automation are self-service checkouts, call centre systems and automatic assembly lines. While these don’t outright replace all human employees, they do replace a large percentage of them.

For the past 40 years, the gap in wealth inequality has grown by “50 to 70 percent” in these sectors, the study says. This is backed by the fact that jobs taken by automation are typically jobs that are taken by less educated people or those from a poorer background.

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Using U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics, the study follows 49 different industries and their reliance on automation. In the results, it was shown that wages of men without high school degrees has plummeted by 8.8% in industries overtaken by automation. For women, this value was 2.3%.

As is well known, these forms of automation do well for the profitability of large companies. Mega-corporations like Walmart benefit tremendously from self-service checkouts, and large factories would never return to purely human labour after robotic assembly lines. However, they are bad for humans, especially as the world population crosses 8 billion people.

“Technological change that creates or increases industry productivity, or productivity of one type of labor, creates [those] large productivity gains but does not have huge distributional effects,” said Institute Professor at MIT Daron Acemoglu. “In contrast, automation creates very large distributional effects and may not have big productivity effects.”

The study argues that the reliance on automation does little to create jobs. While robot technicians will be needed to repair robot workers, the number of robot workers replacing humans will outnumber the amount of new technician jobs. Furthermore, in the future, those technicians may be replaced by robotics as well.

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It just goes to show that manual jobs are always looking to be cut out of human hands by large companies. However, with the rise of AI, even creative jobs are being wrestled from the hands of real designers, oftentimes with digital plagiarism.