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Why Don’t Americans Believe That Robots Are Coming for Their Jobs?

The concept of robot overlords taking control of mankind dates back long before Will Smith's 2004 magnum opus I, ROBOT, which is, incidentally, now the name of one of those automatic floor vacuums. In fact, stories of computers ruling humanity date back as early as the 1950s (as commenters who know their Asimov will no doubt point out). But these days, it really isn't science fiction. In fact, Wired reported a study by Oxford University researchers that estimated 47 percent of current jobs in the U.S. could very well be automated inside of the next 20 to 30 years. The scary part is that Americans actually agree for the most part with these findings — they're just in denial that they are the ones on the chopping block.

The concept of robot overlords taking control of mankind dates back long before Will Smith’s 2004 magnum opus I, ROBOT, which is, incidentally, now the name of one of those automatic floor vacuums. In fact, stories of computers ruling humanity date back as early as the 1950s (as commenters who know their Asimov will no doubt point out). But these days, it really isn’t science fiction. In fact, Wired reported a study by Oxford University researchers that estimated 47 percent of current jobs in the U.S. could very well be automated inside of the next 20 to 30 years. The scary part is that Americans actually agree for the most part with these findings — they’re just in denial that they are the ones on the chopping block.

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(Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire/Gratisography)

According to a study from The Pew Research Center, as reported by Mashable, at least two-thirds of Americans are on board with the idea that “much of the work” done in the next 50 years will be done by robots. And yet, they’re in denial: 80 percent of people surveyed believe their job will still be around. You don’t have to be a math whiz to know those numbers can’t mesh. Somebody’s got to be wrong.

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To be fair, this is pretty much all speculation so far. But in an effort to bring some of it home, let’s look at a few industries that are already flirting with the ways of automation — and we’re not talking about the CEO of Carl’s Jr. announcing he wants to create a fully-automated version of the restaurant.

Writers

We’ll start with this one, because it may seem to be one of those occupations that seems impervious to automation. But the truth is, writing is already an industry that’s had AI’s touch for more than a year. Since as early as January 2015, the Associated Press has been using a robot journalism program, quite familiar with its style guide, to write at least 3,000 stories per month.

One reason why people such as myself shouldn’t be too worried yet is that the goal is to free up journalists to explore more in-depth angles, according to the report. Hopefully the AI doesn’t just figure out how to do that itself.

Delivery Drivers

If you’ve been telling your teen that a great summer gig is schlepping pizzas across town, they may have good reason to call you a liar pretty soon. According to a story from The Times in New Zealand, Domino’s is looking to give Kiwis the full robot experience when it comes to pizza delivery — soon replacing drivers with four-wheeled, meter-tall automatons.

This shouldn’t come as a total surprise given the recent rise in discussion about driver-less cars. But this certainly seems to take it one step further.

Bankers

Last summer, Barclays, one of the world’s largest banks, announced that it would be pursuing artificial intelligence in its banking technology. In the immediate future, they believe this would be in the form of an app or “robotic machine” like Siri or Amazon’s Echo, which could simply have a conversation with you.

While this may not pose an immediate threat to tellers, it would not be wise to assume that the technological developments will simply stop there.

Tell Us What You Think?

Do you think it’s foolish to assume robots will ever actually take over? Does this writer need to update his resume? Have you experienced any robot takeover in your industry? Tell us your story in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter!

Peter Swanson
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