Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and philanthropist extraordinaire, sees a future where humans will begin to lose their jobs to robots. According to a Forrester report from June of 2016, robots and AI are poised to replace 7% of all US jobs by 2025. That number will be much larger in developing countries, where robots will easily replace workers involved in manufacturing, shipping, agriculture, etc. Indeed, it’s predicted that robot labor will threaten up to as much as 50% of all jobs worldwide.
In an interview with Quartz, Gates states that the problem, other than mass unemployment of course, is that right now “the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things.” These taxes all allow the government to fund medicaid, defense and security, infrastructure, and a slew of other things we take for granted. But, as Gates says, “if a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”
Whether this tax is on the manufacturing and sale of the robot itself, or the labor it performs, is up for debate. But, even though robots do threaten a large percentage of current employment, there is a potential benefit to it all. As described by Gates, this opportunity to free up labor will allow humanity to do a better job focusing on things that humans are inherently good at. That is, things that require human empathy and understanding. Fields such as elder care, helping children with special needs, etc. are all currently understaffed, and will continue to be so as our population ages. This freedom from labor could even lead to smaller class sizes, as more focus could be put towards education. It could even be a boon to the arts, allowing people to spend more time focusing on their creativity.
Though the future of robot-human labor is murky, it could still be a while until we see widespread disruption. According to a McKinsey&Company report, the global replacement of human labor could be as far off as 2055…plus or minus 20 years. So, at worst, we have until 2035 to figure this all out. It won’t be an easy transition, but it could be one that frees up people to do what they do best:
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