Fears of Robots Taking Jobs Require Response, Says LivePerson

In the News
April 11, 2017

Back in 2013, an Oxford Martin School study stated that 47% of U.S. jobs are “at risk” from automation.

This contributed to widespread worries about robots taking jobs, even as companies across industries continue to adopt the technology. But are they directed at the right things?

LivePerson Inc., which provides live chat software and studies online marketing, has released its own study about automation. In January, the New York-based company surveyed more than 2,000 people about their experiences and opinions about AI and employment.

“We have a detailed way of looking at the nature of work that’s causational,” said Rurik Bradbury, head of global communications and research at LivePerson. “There’s a big time lag between public perception and facts on the ground.”

Business Takeaways:

  • A LivePerson survey of 2,000 people confirmed that many have fears of robots taking jobs (see image above).
  • However, almost half of respondents were more worried about other people’s jobs than their own.
  • Governments and business need to take responsibility for retraining workers and alleviating fears of automation.

Perceptions of automation
Public concerns about robots taking jobs are a challenge for the robotics industry, particularly in the U.S. and U.K.

“The results from the two countries were broadly similar, as we thought they would be,” Bradbury said. “There is an overlap of themes, debate, and media reading with no language barrier.”

LivePerson’s expertise in software bots guided its research into attitudes toward automation.

“Because we work with call centers, about half our work is fairly predictable and simple to automate,” he added. “Bots can handle password resets and account updates, and there’s not a big regulatory hurdle.”

“Once you’re talking about messaging software on smartphones, it makes sense to talk about automation through bots as well,” Bradbury said. “From speaking to people in Japan and Germany, there’s less concern in those countries because they have more social protections and more worker shortages due to aging populations.”

Role of the news media
Since that first Oxford Martin study, numerous pundits have warned that robots and AI are coming for both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Last year, Oxford Martin published an updated report about robots taking jobs, reiterating that 47% of jobs are at “high risk” of being automated.

The headlines that grab me the most extrapolate incorrectly from the Oxford study,” Bradbury noted. “High risk is not the same as a prediction of job losses.”

“Headlines citing The Terminator are easy to write, but some journalists are trying to be more responsible,” Bradbury said. “It won’t be an apocalypse, but it won’t be a smooth, slow transition either.”

“I don’t know if you can say the fear level is higher, but there are inflection points,” Bradbury told Robotics Business Review. “It’s like the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. The displacement could lead to a culture clash, which is a problem.”

Speed of transition is key
“It’s not that new jobs won’t be created, but that there might be nothing in the interim,” he added. “The speed of this change is key. Headlines imply that jobs are going to disappear overnight.”

“If you think about the cycle of automation that has been happening for the past 200 years, you can see this kind of constant turnover of jobs,” Bradbury said. “There’s not a lot of manual bookbinding, nor do we spend our time at home sewing clothes. … 

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