Robot Workers and Human Jobs: About the May-June 2013 FUTURIST

Cynthia Wagner's picture

As much as some people may not like it, we’re going to need robots to perform a lot of the tasks for which humans are not available. Populations are aging, and human labor is getting more expensive for manufacturing the things that economies want consumers to keep buying, so a fleet of smaller, smarter, more agile robots could be a boon.

In the May-June 2013 issue of THE FUTURIST, Roomba developer Rodney Brooks introduces an industrial robot called Baxter, the star product of his new company, Rethink Robotics. Its sensor and its intuitive programming make Baxter an ideal co-worker (not a total replacement) for humans on the factory floor, says Brooks. See Robots at Work: Toward a Smarter Factory.

But wait, what about jobs for people? As machines continue to supplant human workers in performing increasingly complex tasks, people will need to find ever more creative ways to remain employable. In fact, creativity itself is one of the “highly human skills” that will keep us in demand in the future economy, says workforce consultant Richard W. Samson.

Businesses, too, can gain a competitive edge by aggressively “off-peopling” the tasks that machines can do more efficiently and affordably, and leveraging their highly human qualities, such as compassion and sense of responsibility. See Highly Human Jobs.

One “knowledge job” that you may be surprised to see automated is that of music mogul. Data analysis of why popular music is popular—its rhythms, pitch, chord progressions, and so on—turns out to be an excellent prognosticator for hit songs, reports tech journalist Christopher Steiner. At the same time, the music business will remain wide open for human innovators and disruptors. See Pop Goes the Algorithm.

A “highly human” economy may mean that the twenty-first century will be the century of the woman. In its survey of global trends, The Futures Company observes that women represent the world’s greatest underdeveloped source of labor and thus an untapped source of economic growth. Despite disparities in women’s social and political status around the world, their continued advances in economic participation and decision making will have an impact on organizations, institutions, and nations. Women are becoming innovative agents of change, and not merely adapters and consumers of the status quo. See Women 2020: Our Selves, Our Worlds, Our Futures.

Cynthia G. Wagner is Editor of THE FUTURIST.