As robots become more prevalent in various industries, they are likely to have a significant impact on society. This impact will be felt across different sectors and will bring about both benefits and challenges. In this article, we will explore the issues surrounding the impact of robots on society, including job displacement, changes in social norms and relationships, and the distribution of wealth and power.
Job Displacement One of the most significant impacts of robots on society is job displacement. With advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, machines are becoming increasingly capable of performing tasks that were once done by humans. As a result, many jobs are at risk of being automated, particularly those that involve repetitive tasks or manual labor. According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, up to 800 million jobs worldwide could be displaced by automation by 2030. (1) While automation can lead to increased productivity and lower costs for companies, it can also result in significant job loss. This has the potential to create economic and social instability, particularly in regions where certain industries are heavily dependent on human labor. However, it's important to note that not all jobs will be affected equally. Jobs that require creativity, critical thinking, and human interaction are less likely to be automated than those that involve repetitive tasks. This means that workers who possess these skills will likely remain in high demand in the future.
Changes in Social Norms and Relationships The rise of robots and automation is also likely to bring about changes in social norms and relationships. For example, as robots become more prevalent in the workplace, human workers may need to adjust to new ways of working and interacting with machines. Moreover, the increased use of robots in daily life may lead to changes in how humans relate to each other. For example, a study by the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany found that people who interacted with a robot were less likely to help another person in need, compared to those who did not interact with a robot. (2) This suggests that the presence of robots in society may lead to changes in how humans perceive and respond to others. Furthermore, the use of social robots in elderly care settings is increasing, which has implications for social norms and relationships. In Japan, where the population is aging rapidly, there is a shortage of caregivers, and social robots are being developed to provide care to the elderly. However, the use of robots in care settings raises concerns about the impact on the quality of care and the loss of human interaction. (4)
The distribution of Wealth and Power The impact of robots on society is also likely to have implications for the distribution of wealth and power. As machines become more capable of performing tasks that were once done by humans, there is a risk that the benefits of automation will accrue to a small group of people who own the machines. According to a report by Oxfam, the world's 26 richest people own as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the global population. (3) This level of wealth concentration is likely to increase as automation leads to further job displacement and income inequality. Moreover, there is a risk that robots and automation could lead to the concentration of power in the hands of a small group of people. For example, companies that control the most advanced robots and artificial intelligence systems may have an unfair advantage over their competitors. This could lead to a situation where a small group of companies have significant power over the economy and society as a whole.
Mitigating the Impact of Robots on Society While there are certainly challenges associated with the rise of robots and automation, there are also ways to mitigate their impact on society. For example, governments can invest in education and training programs to help workers develop the skills they need to remain competitive in a changing job market. Additionally, governments can provide social protections, such as income support and retraining programs, to workers who are displaced by automation. Moreover, companies can take steps to ensure that the benefits of automation are shared more widely. For example, companies can work to create new job opportunities that leverage the unique skills and abilities of human workers. They can also invest in programs to help workers transition to new roles as automation takes over certain tasks. One example of a company that is taking steps to mitigate the impact of robots on society is Amazon. The company has invested heavily in robotics and automation, but it has also created thousands of new jobs in areas such as research and development, data analysis, and customer service. (5) In addition, the company has launched a program called Amazon Future Engineer, which provides support and resources to help students from underprivileged backgrounds develop the skills they need to pursue careers in computer science and technology. (6) Another example of a company that is working to mitigate the impact of robots on society is Siemens. The company has developed a program called "The Restart Project," which aims to help workers who have been displaced by automation transition to new jobs. The program provides training, mentoring, and job placement assistance to workers who are looking to develop new skills and find new employment opportunities. (7)
In conclusion, the rise of robots and automation is likely to have a significant impact on society. Job displacement, changes in social norms and relationships, and the distribution of wealth and power are all issues that must be taken into account as we move forward into a future that is increasingly shaped by machines. However, there are also ways to mitigate the impact of robots on society, including investing in education and training programs, providing social protections to workers, and creating new job opportunities that leverage the unique skills and abilities of human workers. By working together to address these challenges, we can create a future where robots and humans coexist in a way that benefits everyone.
McKinsey Global Institute. (2017). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages
Straub, J., Stürmer, S., & Cress, U. (2015). The effect of social robots on people's helping behavior. International Journal of Social Robotics, 7(5), 775-788. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-015-0298-5
Oxfam. (2020). Time to care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis. https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/time-care
Sharkey, A., & Sharkey, N. (2012). Granny and the robots: Ethical issues in robot care for the elderly. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(1), 27-40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9224-9
Amazon. (n.d.). Creating jobs and opportunities. https://www.aboutamazon.com/job-creation-and-investment
Amazon Future Engineer. (n.d.). https://www.amazonfutureengineer.com/
Siemens. (2021). Siemens’ “Restart” project: Supporting employees who are transitioning to new careers. https://www.siemens.com/global/en/home/company/jobs/working-at-siemens/restart-project.html