You’re sitting quietly at your desk, doing paperwork. From your cubicle, you see a figure approach the secretary’s desk. “I’m here to see Mr. Miller,” she says in a slick, Siri-esque monotone.
“Right this way,” the secretary answers.
The metallic woman rolls past you toward your boss’s office, humming like a hybrid car and smelling like one too, damning you to an eternity of begging on the street for nickels.
That’s not quite what having your job automated would be like, but the general concept is a legitimate fear nonetheless, for some more than others. The impact of job automation isn’t entirely known just yet, but research points to potential effects worthy of examination.
While Robotic Rhonda may not be in your future demanding clerical work, there are other factors that we all may witness in upcoming years:
1. Men’s jobs will be automatized first
Oxford researchers have revealed that a stunning 47 percent of jobs could be automated in the next two decades. Newer studies on how gender plays into this reveal that the most at-risk jobs are those dominated by men, and the safest by women.
While workplace equality has come along way, many careers are gender-biased for various reasons. For example, construction work, which require manual force and precision, is dominated by men, while secretarial and nursing jobs, which require emotional reading and structuring of chaos, are dominated by women.
Since many women work in unstructured environments that rely on reading emotions and intentions, the likelihood of automation there is small. For objective and specific, goal-driven jobs like truck driving, construction, and even high frequency trading, robots can be programmed to perform with much more ease.
2. Fast food automation could be here sooner than you think
As income equality remains a topic of concern for many, some worry that proposed solutions, like raising the minimum wage, could actually make things worst. Why? Because for large companies, it could soon become more affordable to automate than pay workers more.
Businesses like Amazon and Google are already cutting costs using robots, and self-service ordering kiosks are being implemented across the world as an alternative to cashiers. This is a shift experts think is coming regardless of wages.
This type of automation eliminates miscommunication in the ordering process, but people using them have been found to order more desserts and spend impulsively, presumably because robots aren’t sentient enough to judge just yet.
3. Automation will make jobs too
According to a Pew research polling of experts, 48 percent believe automation will lead to mass and possibly crippling job displacement, while 52 percent believe that with displacement will come an equivalent or greater amount of new jobs.
Pessimists say the impact will be profound: everything that can be automated will be, creating severe income inequality among workers, with the potential to change the concept of “work” entirely.
A 2016 report from the World Economic Fund claimed that 5 million human jobs could be taken by robots by 2020.
Optimists say that, as it has in the past, technology will create new jobs and new industries even as it displaces others. The technology may also be too gradual to be harmful, and regulatory structures may minimize impact to keep employment up and economies strong.
4. Automation could mean less work, more vacation
Others think we need job automation more than we need to fear it. But technology as of late has not increased productivity; instead it’s been targeted at leisure in the form of entertainment and digital consumption.
Developed countries like America could be in real trouble without automation, especially as populations age (the health-care sector, for example, could become productive with automated technology.)
If job automation does increase productivity across the board, we could be looking at a world in which humans and robots work together to do more, faster, meaning less working time for employees, and hopefully more vacation time for you.
But that’s assuming Rhonda doesn’t snake you out of the job you need to afford that vacation — you can find out just how likely that is for your career over at NPR.
As always, the future remains of a mystery than a threat, and the impact of job automation comes down to managing and encouraging technological progress (and human skill development) in a way that best supports people and the economy.